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Serena Williams’ long bid to tie the Grand Slam record of 24 titles heads Down Under when the Australian Open starts Sunday in Melbourne, with fans aplenty and no fake noise.
At age 39, Williams is running out of chances to tie Aussie Margaret Court’s long-standing record of 24 Grand Slam championships.
Tennis sources have told The Post that Williams has a secret desire to tie the mark in Court’s homeland. Williams’ last Slam title came in Melbourne in 2017, and she has won seven Aussie Opens total.
Aussie officials are planning on 30,000 patrons per session in a country lightly effected by COVID-19. The crowd should only benefit Williams.
Health issues, however, have already cropped up. New virus issues arose Wednesday at the players’ hotel in Melbourne, where a worker tested positive, creating more quarantines.
Open semifinals last September, losing to Victoria Azarenka. Then, in the rescheduled French Open later that month, Williams withdrew in the second round with a sore Achilles. Fitness is everything now for Williams, who became a mother 3½ years ago.
The 10th seed from Compton, Calif., has been stuck on 23 Slams since 2017, but is gaining traction with strong play in the Aussie Open tuneups. She earned her first tournament win since her daughter’s birth in January 2020 in New Zealand.
Serena Williams is chasing Margaret Court’s Grand Slam record.Getty Images
“She’s looked awfully good,’’ Evert said on a conference call Wednesday to promote ESPN’s coverage. “If anything she’s looked better than anybody else.
The Aussie Open was already delayed three weeks because of the pandemic.
“The other top players aren’t match-tough in my mind and Serena doesn’t need tournaments — as she’s proven in the past 20 years — to play her best tennis,’’ Evert said. “She looks quicker than I saw her last year. She looks like she’s improved her movement and her fitness looks good. She’s striking the ball well. This would be the ideal time for her to win. Everyone else is trying to find their form.”
Evert said she has been unimpressed with top contenders, Simona Halep, 2020 Open champion Naomi Osaka and defending Aussie champion Sofia Kenin. “Nobody’s in top form yet,’’ she said. “For Serena to sneak in there to take this title wouldn’t surprise me whatsoever.’’
John McEnroe, who will do the broadcasts from New York and Bristol, Conn., said he feels Williams should get a boost from Tom Brady making the Super Bowl with the Buccaneers. Williams has ownership stakes with the NFL’s Dolphins.
Serena Williams’ hunt for grand slam record won’t get any easier
Serena Williams heads now to the French Open to play…“If she’s fitter than [at the Open], it would be quite helpful. These girls, now when they play her, she’s got a big game but they try to wear her down and get her on the run as much as possible. She seems to be in good frame of mind.’’
The U.S. Open hosted no fans. The French was limited. This will be almost full bore. McEnroe didn’t care for the Flushing emptiness.
“At Adelaide [tuneup], they had a 6,000-seat stadium and it was unbelievable and incredible,’’ McEnroe said. “Any sport, anywhere you got to love seeing that. That’s the advantage of being isolated in a completely other side of the world. Being an island that has 25 million people, they’ve been able to shut it down completely. There’s going to be an energy there that will be unreal.’’
The men’s field will miss 39-year-old Roger Federer but he ended retirement rumors, announcing a March return after a series of knee surgeries. Rafael Nadal has already tied the Swiss Maestro’s Slam record of 20.
“It’s hard to say a guy as great as Roger Federer couldn’t but it will be very difficult to win another one,’’ McEnroe said. “Wimbledon would be by far his best shot.