19 January - 1 February 2015
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Victoria Azarenka


Melbourne is Victoria Azarenka's city of firsts.

It was in Melbourne as a lithe 15-year-old that Azarenka enjoyed her first taste of Grand Slam success, albeit as a junior.

Seven years later, the Belarusian won her first major in the big league at Australian Open 2012. Her straight-sets demolition of 2008 champ Maria Sharapova made her the first woman from Belarus to win a Grand Slam singles title.

It also helped her clinch top spot in the rankings for, you guessed it, the first time.

And should Azarenka claim her third title in a row in two weeks’ time, she will become the first woman to three-peat at Melbourne Park since Martina Hingis, who achieved the feat from 1997–99.

While these are all great achievements, the issue for Azarenka is that Melbourne has really become the first and only place she is winning majors. Reaching the final at the past two US Opens, and the semifinals at Roland Garros 2013 and at Wimbledon 2012, proves that the hard-hitting Belarusian is no slouch on the dirt or grass.

But she needs to start chalking up some major titles outside of Melbourne if she's to re-claim top spot. She also needs to improve her record against Serena Williams – her biggest rival in the race for silverware.

Three wins from 17 matches are not the kind of figures a storied rivalry is based upon. Still, it’s one better than Sharapova, who has won just two of 17 against Williams, Li Na, who has won one of 11, and Agnieszka Radwanska, who has yet to beat Williams in eight attempts.

Underlining Williams’ dominance is the fact that there is a 5000-point gap between first and second in the rankings. With Williams exiting the Australian Open last year in the quarterfinals, No.2 Azarenka’s title defence becomes all the more urgent.

Lose early and she risks falling back within the reach of the closing pack of players that includes Sharapova, Li and Radwanska.

Both Radwanska and Sharapova are stationed in Azarenka’s half of the draw, so she’ll need to get past them if she’s to make it to the final – where Williams will most likely be waiting.

They have met here on three occasions – 2008, 2009 and 2010 – with Williams walking away the victor on all three occasions. Azarenka will be more aware than anyone that she has never defeated Williams in a Grand Slam match.

If Azarenka is to claim that third successive Australian Open championship, it’s likely that she will be required to chalk up another first and defeat Williams in Melbourne.

It's true you never forget your first time, but in the next two weeks Azarenka will be determined to make some new memories, not revisit past glories or, for that matter, failures.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015
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