Serena Williams’ path to Australian Open title may be as hard as 1, 2, 3

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OlympicTalk
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Serena Williams‘ road to a potential 24th Grand Slam singles title could be her toughest of them all — her last three matches at the Australian Open, if she advances, could be against the top three seeds.

Williams plays No. 2 Simona Halep in the quarterfinals on Tuesday (3 a.m. ET).

The winner gets either No. 3 Naomi Osaka or 71st-ranked Hsieh Su-wei, who at 35 is the oldest first-time women’s Grand Slam quarterfinalist in the Open Era (since 1968).

On the other half of the draw, just one of the four remaining players has Grand Slam final experience or is ranked in the top 20. That’s No. 1 Ash Barty, an Australian who hasn’t dropped a set all tournament.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men

Only twice in the Open Era has a woman beaten seed Nos. 1, 2 and 3 en route to a major title — Brit Virginia Wade at the 1968 U.S. Open and Steff Graf, when she defeated Lindsay Davenport, Monica Seles and Martina Hingis to claim her 22nd and final Grand Slam singles title at the 1999 French Open.

Williams, who broke Graf’s record for Open Era major singles titles and wants to tie Margaret Court‘s all-time record, has three times beaten three of the top four seeds en route to a major title — 1999 U.S. Open, 2005 Australian Open and 2012 Wimbledon.

But never Nos. 1, 2 and 3, in part because so often she has been one of those top three seeds.

Not this month in Melbourne, where Williams is seeded 10th.

Last year, Williams failed to reach a Grand Slam final for the first time in a year since 2006. It didn’t help that Wimbledon was canceled, and that she withdrew during the last major, the French Open, with an Achilles injury.

But, while wearing a Florence Griffith Joyner-inspired outfit last week, she put injury concerns to rest in sweeping her first three opponents and outlasting powerful No. 7 seed Aryna Sabalenka in three sets in the fourth round.

Both Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, and Halep’s coach, Darren Cahill, said her movement in particular has been her best since returning from childbirth in 2018.

“We’ve been struggling those last years because she had a lot of injuries, so she was not able to practice the way we wanted,” Mouratoglou said. “It’s a bit of a vicious circle because when you can’t practice well, you don’t get fit. When you’re not fit, you get more injured. We had to get out of this vicious circle.”

Williams made four finals in 10 major starts since having daughter Olympia. She lost all four, including to Halep, who crushed her 6-2, 6-2 at 2019 Wimbledon. The Romanian Halep, who is 2-9 against Williams, called it the best match of her life.

“The best day actually of my life,” she clarified after rallying past 2020 French Open champion Iga Swiatek in the fourth round. “I’m not scared of the power that is in tennis right now, because I have experience. I played many times with these players, and I beat most of them.”

If Williams gets past Halep, she might have to play Osaka, whose breakout came over Williams in the 2018 U.S. Open final. Then there’s potentially Barty, who lost her only two meetings with Williams, but both came well before the Australian rocketed up the rankings in 2019 with a French Open title.

“It’s been a lot of players that really could win the title since the beginning of the draw,” Williams said. “I think there’s so many players that can come out and have won Grand Slams and can keep winning. It’s good. It’s good to see. It’s good to see that I’m in that mix, too.”

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Serena Williams’ path to Australian Open title may be as hard as 1, 2, 3 originally appeared on NBCSports.com