By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Serena Williams is ready to win her first Grand Slam title as a mother, having arrived at the Australian Open in her best condition since coming back from maternity leave, according to her coach Patrick Mouratoglou.
Frenchman Mouratoglou, who has guided Williams to the last 10 of her 23 Grand Slam titles, felt the American great was in “decent shape” when she reached last year’s finals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
However, her fitness had since gone up a notch and Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles may well be in peril at Melbourne Park, he said.
“First of all, last year she made an incredible effort to come back in shape after having a baby and actually she came back in a decent shape quite fast,” Mouratoglou told Reuters in an interview.
“It was a big deal. She had a lot of medical issues after the delivery but she definitely was not 100 percent.
“She reached two Grand Slam finals. She was fit.
“I am knowing her now for a few years so I knew she could be much fitter but it’s just a question of time.
“And I think she’s fitter now. You can see it, it’s quite obvious when you see her on the court, how she moves.
“I think she came back to a very, very high level of fitness.
“So she’s ready. She’s ready to compete and when Serena’s ready to compete, she’s ready to win.”
While two months’ pregnant, Williams claimed a record seventh Australian Open title in the professional era in 2017 but missed out on her title defence while on maternity leave.
She returned to the tour at Indian Wells last year and had a roller-coaster season, forced to pull out of the French Open fourth round with a pectoral muscle injury and was later beaten by Angelique Kerber in the final at Wimbledon.
She then revealed a personal battle with postpartum depression before closing her season in disappointment and acrimony, with a loss to Naomi Osaka in a U.S. Open final marred by a huge row with the chair umpire Carlos Ramos.
Seeded 16th in Melbourne, Williams warmed up for the year’s first Grand Slam by winning all three of her singles matches at the Hopman Cup in Perth. She plays unseeded German Tatjana Maria in her first round match on Tuesday.
Williams has a tough road to an eighth title, with world number one and French Open champion Simona Halep a potential quarter-final opponent followed by Osaka in the semi-finals if the seeds hold sway.
Mouratoglou said seedings and rankings would mean little if Serena brought her best form.
“I feel when she’s playing at her best, she’s the best player in the world,” he said.
“Of course, she’s not number one in the world, and I have a lot of respect for the number one but I still feel that if Serena plays her tennis and she’s herself 100 percent, I still think she’s the best. But she has to show it now.
“I think it might happen,” Mouratoglou said of Williams’ hopes for a 24th Grand Slam title.
“We’ll do everything for it to happen this year.”
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)