MELBOURNE, Australia – One by one, Serena Williams is matching the feats of tennis’ greatest legends.
Her next challenge comes at the Australian Open, which starts Monday with Williams seeking her 18th Grand Slam title – an accomplishment that would match Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert.
“It would mean a lot to be on the same level as such great players,” Williams said Saturday, quickly adding a dash of humility. “I still have a lot of work to do. I obviously want to reach that level, but I’m not there yet.”
“Hopefully, I’ll get there,” she added.
The No. 1-ranked, No. 1-seeded player is entering the new season after a spectacular year. In 2013, Williams won 78 of her 82 matches including the French Open and the U.S. Open. She earned more than $12 million in prize money, a record for women’s tennis.
At 32, an age where most professional players are in decline, Williams is playing the best tennis of her career, says Navratilova, who predicts that Williams will win in Melbourne and go on to eclipse Steffi Graf’s 22 major titles in the Open era.
“If she can stay healthy, there’s no doubt she can go into the 20s. The sky is the limit,” Navratilova said.
In terms of Grand Slam titles, no woman playing professional tennis today comes close. In a distant second place is Williams’ big sister, Venus, who won seven major titles during a career that is now waning.
The player who is considered Williams’ greatest threat is No. 2 Victoria Azarenka, the two-time Aus- tralian Open defending champ. Williams has defeated Azarenka in 14 of their 17 matches – but Azarenka has excelled recently in Melbourne where Serena has won five titles but none since 2010.