MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA (AP) - No woman has come close to rivaling Serena Williams since she finished off her self-titled Serena Slam _ capturing four consecutive major championships _ by winning at Melbourne Park in 2003.
No woman since has even come close to that. But after winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Open last year, Williams appears to be poised for another dominant run, one that has her entertaining thoughts of a calendar year Grand Slam in 2013, starting with the Australian Open on Monday.
Williams cites one stinging loss in Paris as the motivation behind her recent string of success.
After a shocking upset loss to Virginie Razzano, then ranked No. 111, at the French Open last May _ her only first-round defeat in a Grand Slam in 14 seasons on the tour _ Williams rebounded to win titles at Wimbledon, the London Olympics, the U.S. Open and the season-ending WTA Championships.
She finished 2012 with a 58-4 record, losing only once after June, and with a title at the Brisbane International last week has extended her run to 35 wins in her last 36 matches.
In that time, she has beaten No. 1-ranked Victoria Azarenka four times, including at the U.S. Open final in which she saved two match points. She was 5-0 against Azarenka in 2012 and is 11-1 against her overall.
Azarenka is the defending Australian Open champion and Williams said the 23-year-old Belarusian deserves to have the top ranking because she was the most consistent player last year. Azarenka withdrew from their semifinal in Brisbane last week after having part of the nail on her big toe removed after a less-than-perfect pedicure.
No. 2-ranked Maria Sharapova was entered in the Brisbane International but withdrew with a sore right collarbone. Sharapova reached the final here last year, also after pulling out of the tuneup event in Brisbane, and then went on to win the French Open, her first major title in four years.
The pinnacle of Sharapova’s 2012 season coincided with the lowest point for Williams, who followed her surprising fourth-round loss to Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova at Melbourne Park with the loss to Razzano in Paris. That’s when she went on the roll that has her confidently looking ahead to 2013.
“I think maybe whoever wins the Australian Open will have that same thought (about a calendar year Grand Slam),” she said. “There is no way that Victoria or Maria or maybe some other players don’t feel the same way. So I think I definitely feel that way.”
Sharapova has won each of the majors once, giving her a career Grand Slam spread across nine years. She thinks the depth in women’s tennis makes it difficult for anyone to win them all in one season, but not impossible for somebody such as Williams.
“Well, she has the last two, so she’s a couple steps closer than we are, that’s for sure,” she said. “Yeah, she had an incredible season. You know, the reason we still go out and play these matches is because we have to start from scratch and from the first round and from the first point. We have to do it again.”
There’s evidence of Williams‘ previous exploits all around Melbourne Park, from the entrance where spectators arriving on trains and trams have to pass her image five times just to get to the front gate, to the larger-than-life photo that the 15-time Grand Slam winner sees in the tunnel just before she walks onto center court.