Victoria Azarenka is the player to watch at the Australian Open after injuries to a number of rivals, former Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli says.
The former world No.1 last week claimed her first WTA title since 2013, downing Germany’s Angelique Kerber in straight sets in the final of the Brisbane International.
Top seed Serena Williams meanwhile managed less than an hour on court at the Hopman Cup before she pulled out after struggling with inflammation in her left knee.
Speaking ahead of the World Tennis Challenge exhibition tournament in Adelaide, Bartoli said Azarenka would present the strongest challenge to the six-time Australian Open winner.
“Her ground strokes and her ability to return Serena’s serve is really something that puts Serena in massive danger,” Bartoli said.
“There are a lot of question marks over the health and the level of play of Maria Sharapova, Simona Halep (and) Petra Kvitova so I don’t really know the way they are feeling.
“Obviously for them it will be more sort of getting into the draw this year and feeling their way around the first week.
“Same for Serena. No one has seen her play really since the US Open.”
Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open winner who endured injury-wrecked years in 2014 and 2015, equalled the record for the fewest points conceded by a women’s singles champion at the Brisbane event.
Bookmakers have installed her as second favourite behind Williams to take out the Australian Open on the back of her blistering Brisbane run.
Four-time grand slam winner Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario said it would take a lot to beat Williams despite questions over her health.
“As the tournament goes on, it gets tougher and tougher,” she said.
“She can overpower other players and mentally, she’s really strong. You have to just play your game … and be aggressive, more than you normally are.”