After a patchy start to 2012 in which Williams lost in the fourth round at the Australian Open and suffered her first-ever opening-round loss at a major at the French Open, the American stormed to a 31-1 finish to the year, winning Wimbledon, the Olympics, Stanford, the US Open and the season-ending WTA Championships.
Strengths: Is it fair to say ‘everything?’ What everyone in tennis does well Serena does better, including serving, hitting the ball off the ground, moving about the court and closing out a match in which she has a lead. What Williams does especially well is compete. No one in the sport can out-compete Serena. Where that gives her an advantage is stepping on the court, where the American says she often feels like the first set is hers because of players being intimidated. That intimidation factor along with her all-around game and her fervent competitiveness makes her a tough opponent to take down.
Weaknesses: As demonstrated by her losses to Ekaterina Makarova and Virginie Razzano at the Australian and French Opens last year, Serena doesn’t have a brake pedal – her foot is only ever on the gas. When she’s off, the errors can pile up and Williams can find herself digging her own grave behind the baseline with unforced errors as her shovel. The occasional mental slip can cost her too: Serena’s wealth of talent means sometimes she loses focus or desire during a match, letting a retriever or a player who wants to hit toe-to-toe with herback into a match she should be in control of.
Opportunities: This year may present Serena’s best opportunity ever to win tennis’ coveted Grand Slam. Sure, she completed the “Serena Slam” in 2002 and 2003 by winning four straight majors, but the 31-year-old California native comes into the 2013 season as fit and hungry as we’ve ever seen her. What Williams will find extra motivation in is the chance to nab the No.1 ranking, which will be helped along by a solid performance at Melbourne Park after ducking out early last year.Moreover, her chance to continue to build on the historic career she’s laid out is something supremely special for tennis fans to watch.
Threats: While she is undoubtedly the best in women’s tennis, there are a handful of players who can trouble her if they are on and she’s off. They include: Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova, Petra Kvitova, Li Na, Sam Stosur and her sister – Venus. Azarenka in particular demonstrated in the US Open final that she’s keen to raise her game to compete with Serena, aiming at the lines to get the veteran moving about the court. If anything, Serena is her own biggest enemy: an off day could put her out against anyone.
Mary Joe Fernandez, former world No. 4 and tennis analyst:
Serena is my favourite to win the tournament. She’s the one to beat by far. For her, it’s about being healthy and her motivation. How much does she want to win this title? She had such a stunning run in the summer winning Wimbledon, the Olympics and the US Open that ended at the Year End Championships. What’s going to motivate her? Is she going to have a letdown like she did last year? She was so determined at the Olympics and has set the bar so high for everyone else. If she plays like she did in London, she’ll win in Melbourne.