Australian Open 2019: Serena Williams faces tough path to win 24th major

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Williams reached the finals at Wimbledon and in NY on what was her comeback year on the WTA Tour in 2018 following the birth of her first child.

The women's draw looks more open even with Serena Williams, the most dominant force in the sport, back and chasing a 24th grand slam singles title to tie Margaret Court's all-time record.

Williams reached the Wimbledon and US Open finals after her return previous year but lost both, leaving her one short of Australian Margaret Court's tally of major singles titles.

But Williams is in a tough half of the draw and could meet world number one Simona Halep in round four, and if she gets through that Karolina Pliskova in the last eight.

Unseeded Estonian Kanepi knocked Halep out of the first round at Flushing Meadows a year ago, making the Romanian the first top seed to lose at that tournament's earliest stage.

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In a heated verbal exchange, Williams branded the umpire a "thief" and a "liar" - a clash that resulted in the American being docked an entire game penalty after she had already received three code violations. Bookmakers in Australia have installed Williams as a short-priced favourite for the title with her US Open conqueror Osaka - the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam - next in the betting. She warmed up for Melbourne by making the semi-finals of the Brisbane International last week, where she blamed a poor attitude for losing to Lesia Tsurenko.

"The first time I came back here and hit on the courts, I thought, 'Okay, I'm home.' I feel like these courts are suited for me, so it's incredible to be back".

And Evert says the prospect of a fully fit Williams could strike fear into her rivals.

The 21-year-old Zverev appears the most likely of the younger generation hoping to end the world's top three's domination of grand slams, having beaten Federer and Djokovic at the ATP Tour Finals in London last November.

The 28-year-old Dane insists she can manage the debilitating auto-immune condition, which sometimes leaves her so exhausted she cannot raise her arms above her head. She has also dealt with the off-court attention that tennis stardom brings, joking online with Hollywood heartthrob Michael B. Jordan after revealing to talk show host Ellen DeGeneres that she had a crush on him. The LIVE telecast of Australian Open in India will be available on Sony ESPN/HD network. Maria Sharapova has failed to impress since returning from a doping ban and, now ranked 30, is looking some way from the player who won five Grand Slams.

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