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Sharapova can end Serena’s reign




THE year-end world number one for the last three years, Williams is odds-on to repeat the trick in 2016.

However, you have to wonder how long she can continue to defy age – she’ll turn 35 during the new season.

While people would have sat in this position in previous years and said the same thing, there are additional concerns for me, this time around.

Williams was clearly seriously driven by a desire to win the Grand Slam last season but fell agonisingly short, losing match 27 of 28 and thus failing to equal the achievement of Steffi Graf.

While the American remains the best player on the planet, simply dusting herself down and ‘going again’ at the same goal will be much easier said than done.

I feel there could easily be a mental hangover from her shock US Open loss to Roberta Vinci, one that remains her last competitive match.

It is also fair to say that while that loss was one of just three defeats in 2015, Williams struggled more last season than she had done in the previous two.

That may seem a funny thing to say but it was not demolition after demolition as we’ve often seen from Serena. Instead three-set battles were regular occurrences – no fewer than 11 of her 27 Grand Slam wins came in three sets, including five out of seven at Roland Garros alone.

Essentially, small signs of a slip are there if you look closely enough and so I’m instead going to take a punt and oppose her with Maria Sharapova.

The Russian’s 2015 was an injury-hit one and she basically missed three and a half months after Wimbledon, only returning towards the end of the campaign.

That return was a good one though and she looked much sharper than expected as she made the semis of the WTA Finals in Singapore and then did all she could – winning her two matches – in the Fed Cup final, only to finish on the losing side.

Despite her lengthy injury absence, Sharapova still finished the year fourth in the WTA ranking list having won two titles, reached the Australian Open final and made four other semi-finals, including one at Wimbledon.

The year before, when fully fit, it should be remembered she went into the WTA Finals with a chance of overhauling Williams as world number one.

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