Over the next two weeks, as the new season begins and the Australian Open nears, our panel of writers and editors will debate the five burning questions on each tour.
STEVE TIGNOR, Senior Writer: Serena once dominated Down Under. She has five titles there, and she has said that she loves few things more than starting the season with a win in Melbourne. So it’s strange that, in the three years since she has returned to No. 1, she has done it without an Australian Open title. In each of those years, Serena was contending with an ailment. That could mean she needs to train harder in the off-season to get sharp right away, or it could mean she needs to rest more to stay healthy. Or it could mean she just needs to be luckier. Regardless, getting her body right is the first step to returning to the winner’s podium.
PETER BODO, Senior Writer: Only one person stands between Serena and another title in Oz, and that’s Serena. Last year, her fourth-round loss to Ana Ivanovic set the tone for most of her Slam year, in which she struggled until the last moment, saving her season with a win at the US Open.
Williams’ five-year drought Down Under ought to give her some extra incentive—not that she will need it on the hard courts so suited to her game. Of course, she’s 33 and has been incrementally more injury prone with the passing years. But if she can keep herself healthy and avoid lapses of focus, she’ll win it all.
NINA PANTIC, Associate Editor: Given Serena’s stellar, gritty performance at the WTA Finals, the veteran American shows no signs of losing interest in competition. Ups and downs regarding health are nothing new for Williams, but 2014 was the first year in quite some time that she bowed out of three Slams early. It should inspire her to make her marks this year, starting in Australia. A motivated Williams almost always wins, as she showed by mowing through the draw at Flushing Meadows. Bottom line: If Serena wants it, she usually gets it—as long as Alize Cornet is nowhere to be found.
ED MCGROGAN, Senior Editor: There’s been a lot of talk about Williams’ health, and for good reason. Serena is like Rafael Nadal: At their physical peaks, their games are a visible level above everyone else’s. But if I may venture into the technical realm, it’s imperative that Williams serves accurately in Melbourne—or anywhere she plays—if she’s to win. The stroke remains her biggest advantage over the field, but when the point lasts longer than three shots, the gap narrows considerably between the 18-time Slam champ and her opponent. She still holds the edge, of course, but none of her three major conquerors in 2014 (Ivanovic, Garbine Muguruza and Cornet) pulled the big upsets with their serves.
Monday, January 5: Is Genie Bouchard ready to win a major?
Friday, January 9: Which former No. 1 will perform best in Melbourne and beyond: Azarenka, Ivanovic, Sharapova, or Wozniacki?
Tuesday, January 13: Will the women be more entertaining than the men Down Under?
Wednesday, January 14: Is there a young American who can emerge the way Sloane Stephens did in reaching the 2013 Australian Open semifinals?