Thursday, January 16, 2020

Serena could face Osaka in Australian Open showdown

Serena Williams will try again to tie Margaret Court's record of 24 Grand Slam
singles titles. 2018 photo by Mal Taam
   Eighth-seeded Serena Williams, a part-time Silicon Valley resident, could face third seed and defending champion Naomi Osaka in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.
   The winner could play top-ranked Ashleigh Barty in the semifinals.
   The singles draws for the year's first Grand Slam tournament, which will begin Sunday (California time) in Melbourne, was held late Thursday night.
   Osaka, 22, is 2-1 against Williams, 38. Osaka stunned Williams 6-2, 6-4 in the tumultuous 2018 U.S. Open final, but Williams gained revenge with a 6-3, 6-4 victory in the Toronto quarterfinals last August.
   Williams drew Anastasia Potapova, an 18-year-old Russian ranked 90th, in the first round of the Australian Open. Potapova made her French Open debut last year, ousting former world No. 1 Angelique Kerber 6-4, 6-2 in the opening round before losing to eventual runner-up Marketa Vondrousova in the second round.
   Williams still seeks her 24th Grand Slam singles title, which would tie Margaret Court's record. Williams won her last major title in the 2017 Australian Open, had her first child in September that year and suffered life-threatening complications. She has played in four Grand Slam finals since then, losing each in straight sets.
   Osaka, meanwhile, has not reached a Grand Slam quarterfinal since winning her second consecutive major title last year in Melbourne.
   In other first-round Australian Open matchups:
   –No. 24 seed Sloane Stephens, who grew up in Fresno, Calif., will meet Zhang Shuai. Both players broke through in the Australian Open, with Stephens reaching the 2013 semifinals at 19 and Zhang advancing to the 2016 quarterfinals at 27. Zhang will play in Friday's singles and doubles finals in Hobart.
   –Kristie Ahn, a 27-year-old Stanford graduate, will try to end the singles career of former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki. Wozniacki, who won her only Grand Slam title in the 2018 Australian Open, announced last month that she will retire after this year's tournament in Melbourne.
   –CiCi Bellis, a 20-year-old San Francisco native who grew up in nearby Atherton, will play Tatjana Maria, 32, of Germany. It will be Bellis' first Grand Slam match since she lost to 30th-seeded Kiki Bertens in the first round of the 2018 Australian Open. Bellis had three operations on her right wrist and one on her right elbow during a 19-month layoff that ended last November.
   –Another San Francisco native, 32-year-old Sam Querrey, will take on 25th-seeded Borna Coric of Croatia. Coric, 23, shocked then-No. 4 Dominic Thiem last week in the round-robin phase of the inaugural ATP Cup in Sydney.
   –Mackenzie McDonald, a 24-year-old product of Piedmont in the San Francisco Bay Area, will face 30th-seeded Daniel Evans of Great Britain for the first time in a matchup of undersized players. McDonald is 5-foot-10 (1.78 meters) and 160 pounds (73 kilograms); Evans is 5-foot-9 (1.75 meters) and 165 pounds (75 kilograms). McDonald had right hamstring surgery in June and missed the rest of the year.
   Australian Open qualifying – Harriet Dart of Great Britain beat 15th-seeded Nicole Gibbs (Stanford, 2011-13) 6-2, 6-3 early today in the second round.

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