Martina Navratilova has made Serena Williams her favourite to win the 2020 Australian Open, saying her title in Auckland will “have been an emotional release”.
Former world No 1 Williams ended her trophy drought last week as she won her first title since 2017 and her first since becoming a mother.
The 38-year-old will be gunning for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam over the next fortnight, but in recent years she has come up short in finals.
She played in four major finals since giving birth, but has come out second best on each occasion.
Navratilova, though, feels it will be different after she won in Auckland.
“The emotional pressure has been growing for Serena Williams as she seeks a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles title,” she wrote in her wtatennis.com column. “She knows, at the age of 38, that time is running out for her to tie and then beat that record. And she has lost her last four major finals.
“That’s why I think Williams winning a tournament in Auckland last weekend – for her first title in three years, as well as her first since becoming a mother – was such an important moment. Taking that title would have been an emotional release that should help her at the Australian Open, and it’s why she’s the favorite at Melbourne Park.
“That title should rub out some of the doubt that has been building in her mind about whether she could perform in finals. When you get to several finals, and then don’t perform in those matches, that scar tissue starts to build up in your mind. Just landing the Auckland title, even though she didn’t beat anyone at the truly elite level, will help Williams to feel like a winner again.
“Nothing takes the stress away from a tennis player like playing and winning matches. You can be sure that Williams will be feeling better about herself now that she had been before any other major over the last couple of years. And if she reaches the final of the Australian Open, that experience in Auckland, of taking the final step, will be even more valuable to her. While I would still like Williams to play a little bit more – she has had just five matches since last September’s US Open final, all of them in Auckland last week – she’s healthy, she’s fit, and she’s as motivated as she’s ever been.”
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