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Australian Open Preview: How Serena Can Reach No. 1

January 9, 2013 - World TeamTennis (WTT) Washington Kastles

Winning Wimbledon, the US Open, the Olympics and the WTA Championships wasn't enough to make Serena Williams the World No. 1.

Beginning Monday at the Australian Open, the Kastles' living legend finally has a chance to change all that. If Serena reaches the singles final down under, she will reclaim the top spot in the WTA singles rankings for the first time since October 10, 2010.

In doing so, the 31-year-old would eclipse Chris Evert as the oldest World No. 1 in the history of the computer rankings. Evert was the first World No. 1 in 1975, and her final week atop the charts came 10 years later at the age of 30.

Serena will enter the Australian Open trailing No. 1 seed Victoria Azarenka by 575 points and No. 2 seed Maria Sharapova by 295 points in this Monday's rankings. Azarenka's advantage stems from playing three more tournaments than Sharapova and four more than Serena in 2012.

Early losses by Azarenka and Sharapova, the 2012 Australian Open finalists, would help Serena's cause. But they aren't required. Serena's sixth appearance in the Australian Open championship match would lift her to No. 1 in the January 28 rankings, regardless of the results of others.

When she's played in past Australian Open finals, there's been no stopping Serena. She's 9-for-9 with a title on the line in Melbourne (5-0 in singles, 4-0 in doubles), and she'll be back in the doubles draw with sister and Kastles teammate Venus Williams in 2013.

Serena enters on a 16-match singles winning streak, and big sister is not too far behind. Venus has won eight straight singles matches, including a 3-0 mark at last week's Hopman Cup team tournament in Perth, Australia.

The Mylan World TeamTennis Finals MVP will be eager to erase bitter memories down under. She's seeded 25th one year after missing the Australian Open entirely with Sjogren's Syndrome. Venus' last match on Rod Laver Arena came in 2011 when she retired with a right hip injury one game into her third-rounder.

Venus has reached the singles quarterfinals in Melbourne seven times, but the final just once, falling to Serena in three sets 10 years ago.

As Venus seeks her first Australian Open singles title in her 13th tournament appearance, she can look to fellow Kastle Leander Paes for inspiration.

Paes played in Melbourne on 16 occasions before becoming the Australian Open men's doubles champion for the first time in 2012. The third-ranked Paes and Davis Cup hero Radek Stepanek are back this year to defend their title as the No. 2 seeds.

They hope to be at full strength after Stepanek withdrew from the season-opening tournament in Brisbane with an eye infection and the warm-up event in Sydney with an intercostal strain.

If the Czech is healthy, he and Paes will be favored to make another deep run in a draw full of inexperienced teams. The new season has brought many new partnerships, including three duos making their Grand Slam team debuts in Australia: Max Mirnyi and Horia Tecau, Mahesh Bhupathi and Daniel Nestor, and Robert Lindstedt and Nenad Zimonjic.

Paes and Elena Vesnina will be playing mixed doubles in Melbourne after reaching the 2012 Australian Open and Wimbledon finals. The two-time Mylan WTT Male MVP is also a two-time Australian Open mixed doubles champion, winning with Martina Navratilova in 2003 and Cara Black in 2010.

Black is competing in women's doubles alongside Washington's Anastasia Rodionova, providing the Kastle with her best chance at capturing a maiden major title. After winning the 2007 Australian Open women's doubles title with Liezel Huber, Black spent every week from July 9, 2007 through April 18, 2010 ranked No. 1 in the world.

Before Black took a temporary hiatus, she and Anastasia reached the 2011 Australian Open quarterfinals and 2010 US Open semifinals in their only two Grand Slams as a team. They enter this year's Australian Open having won the ASB Classic warm-up event in Auckland.

Anastasia and Black are expected to receive a women's doubles wild card as Black continues to rebuild her ranking after returning to the tour in October. Also hoping for a wild card is Anastasia's sister and Kastles teammate Arina Rodionova, who would team with Olivia Rogowska of Australia.

Though the main draw doesn't commence until Monday, the Rodionova sisters will play their first matches tonight in the women's singles qualifying tournament. No. 19 seed Anastasia faces Nastassja Burnett and Arina meets Maria Irigoyen in matches that will be streamed live at AustralianOpen.com beginning at about 9:30 pm DC time.

Also competing in Australia are 2012 Kastles substitutes Treat Huey and Edina Gallovits-Hall, as well as Washington's wild card from last season, Raquel Kops-Jones . Even former Kastles star Rennae Stubbs will take to the court, teaming with fellow Aussie Nicole Bradtke in the Legends doubles event.

As always, you can follow the progress of Kastles players by visiting the 'Kastle Tracker' at WashingtonKastles.com. This exclusive webpage will be updated throughout the tournament with Washington player results and schedules, as well as links to live streaming and live scoring.

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