MELBOURNE: Defending champion Serena Williams insists she is fighting fit in her bid for a seventh Australian Open crown despite an injury scare and lack of match practice.
The world No.1 has barely played since the US Open in September, when Roberta Vinci shattered her dream of a calendar year Grand Slam in a heart-breaking semi-final defeat.
Williams attempted a comeback at this month’s Hopman Cup mixed-team tournament in Perth but retired with soreness in her left knee, sparking speculation that at 34, she could be past her peak.
But the American 21-time Grand Slam champion, who also battled knee problems in the latter half of 2015, insists she is “ready to go” at the Melbourne Park tournament starting Monday.
“My body is feeling great now,” she said this week.
“Obviously I had a hiccup but right now it is doing much better. I’ve had a few days of training so it’s looking good.”
She added: “I know what I need to do on and off the court to win big tournaments.”
Melbourne Park has been a happy hunting ground for Williams. She claimed her first Australian Open title way back in 2003, beating elder sister Venus in the final, and reached her sixth last year when she toppled archrival Maria Sharapova.
Williams is not the only player struggling ahead of the opening Grand Slam of the season, with injuries taking their toll on many of the leading names.
Like Williams, Sharapova, who won her only Australian Open title in 2008, will enter this year’s tournament with little match practice, although she called her decision not to play last week’s Brisbane International precautionary and declared on Tuesday she was now healthy.
It follows her second half of 2015 being wrecked by injuries, first to her right leg which forced her to miss the US Open. She then retired from her comeback match at September’s Wuhan Open with a left forearm injury.
Romanian pocket-rocket Halep also withdrew from Brisbane but was playing this week in Sydney, and knows she has a huge task ahead to win her maiden Grand Slam, seeded to meet Williams in the final.
“I beat Serena once in my life, so it’s really important for me,” said Halep, who has won just one of seven matches against the American and admitted her achilles injury was “still there but now I don’t feel pain any more.”
“To meet Serena, it means that I have to do finals. So let’s go there in Melbourne to see if I can be there,” she added.