Serena Williams took inspiration from the "unbelievable" Tom Brady as she cruised into the second round of the Australian Open with a "vintage" performance.

Brady made yet more history on Sunday, the most successful player in NFL history winning a seventh Super Bowl as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Kansas City Chiefs 31-9.

The incredible Brady, 43, showed age is no barrier, throwing three touchdown passes – two of which were scored by his long-time friend Rob Gronkowski – and completing 21 of 29 throws for 201 yards.

Brady did now allow any interceptions as he picked up the MVP award at Raymond James Stadium.

Williams started her quest for a record-equalling 24th grand slam singles title with a 6-1 6-1 defeat of Laura Siegemund on Monday, then paid tribute to her fellow American Brady.

She said of his exploits: "It's unbelievable. I just was watching as much as I could to see. My only word is it's unbelievable. I kept saying: 'This is unbelievable, this is unreal'.

"You can't say it was the system he was at formerly [the New England Patriots]. It's definitely Tom Brady, he's Tom Brady. He's amazing."

Brady banished everyone from his house in the days leading up to the Super Bowl so he could fully focus on inspiring the Buccaneers to victory, but the 39-year-old Williams said she could never do the same as she would not want to be separated from her daughter, Olympia.

"I would not be able to go function without my three-year-old around," Williams said. "I think I would be in a depression.

"We've been together every day of her life, so... Is that healthy? Not at all! Not even close. But every single day I just want to be around her. It's great. Everyone's different.

"I can totally understand why he would banish because if I had the strength to do it, I would too.

"I could see it's definitely a distraction, especially every year that I've played except for the past few months, I finally am starting to get better at it. The first two and a half years was very difficult. I wasn't strong enough to do the banishment."

Williams, who will face Nina Stojanovic in the second round at Melbourne Park, was delighted with the manner in which she swept Siegemund aside and had no issues with her shoulder after withdrawing from a pre-tournament event citing an injury problem.

"This was a good start. Definitely vintage 'Rena'. It's definitely good. I think I'm pretty good at pacing myself in a grand slam," she said.

"I was happy just to get through it. Wasn't sure how my serve would be after a little bit of that shoulder, but it's feeling good, I'm feeling good. So, it felt really good.

"Last year was very crazy for the world, and to be able to do what I love and to be able to come out and compete and play at a grand slam, after the last 12 months, it makes me appreciate the moment even more."

Serena Williams' bid for a record-equalling 24th grand slam title started with a comprehensive win over Laura Siegemund at the Australian Open.

The American star was dominant on her way to a 6-1 6-1 victory over Siegemund on Rod Laver Arena on Monday.

Williams is aiming to join Margaret Court on a record 24 grand slam singles titles and she had no problems against the German in Melbourne.

She improved to 20-0 in the first round of the Australian Open, showing few signs of a shoulder injury she expects to be dealing with throughout the tournament.

Williams lost just 10 games in her previous two wins over Siegemund, but the seven-time Australian Open winner was broken in the opening game.

But Siegemund produced too many errors from then on, Williams winning in just 56 minutes to set up a clash against Nina Stojanovic.

 

Data Slam: Serena cruises after initial nerves
Williams was broken to 15 in the opening game when Siegemund produced a forehand return winner. However, she steadied, reeling off the next 10 games on her way to a comfortable win.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Williams – 16/15
Siegemund – 4/20

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Williams – 4/1
Siegemund – 0/3

BREAK POINTS WON
Williams – 6/9
Siegemund – 1/1

Serena Williams admitted she would be dealing with her shoulder injury during the Australian Open, but the star is "very confident" she will be ready to go.

Williams withdrew from the Yarra Valley Classic on Friday due to a right shoulder injury.

Asked how she was feeling on Saturday, the 23-time grand slam singles champion was upbeat.

"I feel pretty good. I've gotten a lot of treatment already on my shoulder.  But I'm super confident it's going to be great," Williams told a news conference.

"I'm feeling very confident, I think is a better word, and getting ready for hopefully the next two weeks."

However, Williams said the injury would be an issue throughout the Australian Open, which begins on Monday.

"It's definitely something that I'm going to have to deal with for the fortnight. Kind of knowing that going into a tournament definitely helps," the 39-year-old said.

"Also knowing, okay, I'm going to have to probably pick up some different therapy exercises after each match, etcetera.

"It's going to be really important."

Williams' last grand slam title came in Melbourne in 2017 and all eyes will again be on the American in her bid to equal Margaret Court's record of 24 major crowns.

While that record is again on her mind, Williams – who will face Laura Siegemund in the first round – said she was now more relaxed about it.

"It's definitely on my shoulders and on my mind. I think it's good to be on my mind," she said.

"I think it's a different burden, I should say, on my shoulders because I'm used to it now. It's more relaxing I would like to say, yeah."

Serena Williams has withdrawn from her semi-final at the Yarra Valley Classic due to an injury to her right shoulder.

As a result, home favourite Ash Barty will progress to the final of the Australian Open warm-up event at Melbourne Park.

Williams, who is chasing an eighth Australian Open crown and an historic 24th grand slam singles success, had been in impressive form this week, demolishing Tsvetana Pironkova in straight sets.

Friday's quarter-final against American Danielle Collins proved a harder slog, as she was forced into a match tiebreak to win 6-2 4-6 10-6.

An anticipated showdown against Barty will now not come to pass, with the world number one to pursue a ninth career title against either Garbine Muguruza or Marketa Vondrousova.

"I think the rust is always there for everyone the first few matches of the season. But without a doubt, I felt better and better each match," Barty told reporters after being taken the distance by Shelby Rodgers.

"Each match has been very different, different challenges, different things I've had to overcome, which is the best thing, to be able to work through those and give myself another chance to play a little bit better the next day, focus on some new challenges for the next day."

Williams is due to face Germany's Laura Siegemund in the first round of the Australian Open on Monday.

Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic could face Dominic Thiem in a mouth-watering semi-final after being handed a tough path to success at Melbourne Park, where Serena Williams will continue her quest for a 24th grand slam singles title.

The Australian Open draw took place on Friday, with world number one Djokovic set to play Frenchman Jeremy Chardy in the opening round of the year's first major tournament.

Amid coronavirus concerns in Melbourne, where Swiss great Roger Federer is absent, Djokovic has set his sights on a ninth crown and 18th major success, but the top seed's title defence is far from straightforward.

Djokovic could face Gael Monfils (fourth round) and sixth seed Alexander Zverev (quarter-final) en route to a possible semi-final against US Open champion and third seed Thiem.

The Serb overcame Thiem in a five-set thriller in last year's Australian Open final, before the latter broke through for his maiden major trophy at Flushing Meadows.

Djokovic could then meet second seed and 20-time major champion Rafael Nadal in a blockbuster final – he blitzed the Spanish superstar in the 2019 Australian Open decider but lost in three one-sided sets in their previous meeting in the French Open final.

Nadal will go head-to-head with another Serb in the first round – Laslo Djere – while Stefanos Tsitsipas could await in the quarters, with 2019 US Open final opponent Daniil Medvedev also on the same side of the draw.

Meanwhile, Williams' bid for a record-equalling 24th slam will begin against German Laura Siegemund.

The 39-year-old Williams has been stuck on 23 majors since winning the Australian Open in 2017 – losing finals at Wimbledon (2018 and 2019) and the US Open (2018 and 2019).

World number one and local hope Ashleigh Barty will meet Montenegro's Danka Kovinic in round one and defending champion Sofia Kenin faces Australian wildcard Maddison Inglis.

The last 16 could see Williams clash with Aryna Sabalenka, Barty meet Petra Martic, Kenin tackle Johanna Konta and three-time major champion Naomi Osaka do battle with last year's runner-up Garbine Muguruza.

One in eight women in the Australian Open draw have already won a grand slam title.

One in eight. It is staggering that of the 128 players who set out in the hope of singles glory at Melbourne Park, there are 16 major champions among them, and perhaps never has it been so difficult to predict who will carry off the title.

Compare it to the men's draw, where there are just five grand slam singles winners, and where you would struggle to make a compelling case for any more than three of those this year, with apologies to Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic.

As long-running dynasties near their end on the men's and women's tours, the WTA is a lengthy step ahead of the ATP with a cast of appealing characters already assuming leading roles.

The leader of the pack

Three-time grand slam champion Naomi Osaka is at the forefront of a school of rising stars, but she has impressive rivals for company.

The last four years have seen the 15 women's majors won by 12 different players, whereas in the men's game, Rafael Nadal (6), Novak Djokovic (5), Roger Federer (3) and Dominic Thiem (1) have creamed off all the top prizes in the same period.

Often criticised in the past for a perceived lack of depth, in the years when Serena Williams won seemingly at will, the women's tour has exploded with a rush of bright and young talent.

Osaka is a revelation and a leader, on and off the court. Twice a US Open champion now, and a winner in Australia two years ago, the 23-year-old Japanese star took a powerful stance for racial equality at Flushing Meadows back in September, at the height of Black Lives Matter protests. She wants to achieve even more off the court than on it, where she looks assured of one day leaving an impressive legacy.

If there is any area where Osaka's game falls down it is consistency. She has surprisingly not passed the fourth round in 14 of her 17 grand slam appearances, but on every occasion she has gone beyond that stage it has been en route to lifting a trophy.

In hot pursuit

Last year's three slam champions were, at the times of their triumphs, just 21 (Sofia Kenin - Australian Open), 19 (Iga Swiatek - French Open) and 22 (Osaka - US Open).

The women's game has not seen anything comparable in terms of youthful winners of its blue riband tournaments since 2004, when the 21-year-old Justine Henin won in Australia, Anastasia Myskina landed the Roland Garros title at 22, Maria Sharapova was a 17-year-old bolter to Wimbledon glory and 19-year-old Svetlana Kuznetsova scored a stunning Flushing Meadows victory.

Last year does not touch the 1997 season, when a 16-year-old Martina Hingis won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open, denied a grand slam clean sweep by 19-year-old Iva Majoli's shock French Open final win over the Swiss.

But women's tennis is still seeing a remarkable shift to relative youth.

The 2019 season saw a then 19-year-old Bianca Andreescu scoop a stunning US Open win, while Ash Barty took the French Open.

Andreescu has been sidelined with a knee injury since the 2019 WTA Finals, but she is back for Australia, where Queenslander Barty, now 24, is the home hero.

Brace for the prospect of Andreescu and Barty joining Kenin, Swiatek and Osaka in a group of five who can take the women's game boldly into the post-Williams era.

But the Williams era isn't over

This is true, and again Serena will make another attempt to land that elusive 24th grand slam, the one that would move her level with Margaret Court on the all-time list.

She remains, at the age of 39, a magnificent competitor and a beguiling player, as does sister Venus, who turns 41 in June.

Serena has lost her last four grand slam finals, however, and the most recent run to a title match came almost 18 months ago in New York, where Andreescu had her number.

As the new gang of five threaten to pull away from the old establishment, perhaps Williams is now in the next group, along with the likes of Simona Halep, Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kvitova: still perfectly capable of winning another slam or even multiple slams, but it feels important to strike now.

Serena has not won any of her last 10 slams, making it the longest span in her professional career without winning a major.

Barty party, or Sofia the second?

Osaka begins the Australian Open as favourite with bookmakers, but world number one Barty will have home support and could make that count. How she performs will be keenly watched, given she chose not to travel once the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, sitting out 11 months.

Should Barty get on a roll, hopes will be high she can become the first Australian woman to take the title since Chris O'Neil in 1978. Last year, Barty fell in the semi-finals to Kenin, and she will be eager to land a second slam title.

Kenin, whose intense concentration and steely resolve helped her pull off last year's shock Melbourne win, and follow up with a run to the French Open final, can be a match for anyone. She will be aiming to become the first woman to win back-to-back Australian Open titles since Azarenka in 2012 and 2013.

Success on this level has come perhaps ahead of schedule for the American, and the same can be said for Swiatek, whose demolition of the field at Roland Garros in October made a mockery of her being ranked number 53 in the world.

The teenage Polish player became her country's first grand slam singles champion, and with that status comes the expectation she will follow it up. How that turns out for her will be one of the most intriguing of sub-plots in the new season.

Changing priorities

Halep said in a recent WTA interview that winning an Olympic medal was her "main goal" for 2021, although Osaka will also have the Tokyo Games firmly circled in her diary.

For the likes of those other players among the 16 slam winners in the Melbourne draw, there will be differing targets this year, too.

Angelique Kerber, Sloane Stephens, Jelena Ostapenko and particularly Garbine Muguruza may yet come good again on the big stage at some point this season.

For Venus Williams, Kuznetsova and Samantha Stosur, it may be a case of one final hurrah.

As the likes of Coco Gauff emerge as potential future big-stage winners, and fledgling ambassadors, the women's game looks in safe hands.

Serena Williams roared into the quarter-finals of the Yarra Valley Classic with a 6-1 6-4 victory over Tsvetana Pironkova on a star-studded day of action in Australia.

The 23-time grand slam champion was in fine form at Melbourne Park, where the biggest names in women's tennis were competing across multiple tournaments, as she sealed a straight-sets triumph to continue her preparations for a shot at an eighth Australian Open title.

In doing so the 39-year-old extended her head-to-head record over the Bulgarian to 6-0 and was delighted to get the job done.

"It's definitely nice to get another win," the American said during her on-court interview.

"She's clearly a great player, so it wasn't easy, but it was good to come through."

Speaking at her media conference, Williams added: "Last time it was an incredible three-set match, so today I was like, 'All right, let's really try and focus and learn to do better than last time.'"

World number one Ash Barty had a less straightforward path to the last eight, requiring three sets to see off Marie Bouzkova.

The home hope ultimately prevailed 6-0 4-6 6-3, with second seed and reigning Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin also taken the distance in a 5-7 7-5 6-2 win over Jessica Pegula, as Nadia Podoroska dug deep to down Petra Kvitova 5-7 6-1 7-6 (9-7).

With Barty now set to face Shelby Rogers, Danielle Collins awaits Williams having impressively defeated third seed Karolina Pliskova 7-6 (7-5) 7-6 (7-3), while Garbine Muguruza overcame Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-1 6-2 to set up a meeting with Kenin.

In the Gippsland Trophy, the top three seeds all dodged upsets, with two-time grand slam winner Simona Halep, 2019 Australian Open victor Naomi Osaka and 2018 Tour Finals champion Elina Svitolina safely navigating through the last 16.

Fifth-seeded Briton Johanna Konta failed to convert two match points as she succumbed to a 4-6 7-6 (12-10) 7-6 (7-4) defeat to Irina-Camelia Begu.

Meanwhile, at the Grampians Trophy there were wins for Anett Kontaveit, Jennifer Brady and Angelique Kerber.

Serena Williams and Simona Halep started the season with straight-sets victories in Melbourne a week before the Australian Open gets under way.

Williams and Halep played in an exhibition event with a crowd of 4,000 watching on in Adelaide last Friday and they were back in competitive action three days later.

Legendary American Williams beat Daria Gavrilova 6-1 6-4 to move into the third round of the Yarra Valley Classic.

The fifth seed struck 27 winners to 15 unforced errors on Margaret Court Arena as she set up a meeting with Tsvetana Pironkova, who ousted Donna Vekic 1-6 6-4 6-2.

Williams said: "It was a good match for me. It wasn't easy at all. It was lots of rallies and lots of movement, and she's from here, so she obviously always plays hard. So it was really good and it felt good to clinch that in the end."

Third seed Karolina Pliskova, Petra Martic, Danielle Collins and Marketa Vondrousova also advanced to the last 16 on Monday.

Elsewhere, top seed Halep is through to the third round of the Gippsland Trophy following a 6-4 6-4 win over Anastasia Potapova.

Halep hit 23 winners and broke twice in each set in what was her first official match since October.

Elina Svitolina, the third seed, beat Andrea Petkovic 6-1 6-4, while Coco Gauff, Ekaterina Alexandrova and Jelena Ostapenko were among the other winners seven days prior to the start of the first grand slam of 2021.

Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal agreed it was great to be playing in front of busy grandstands again as tennis stars emerged from lockdown in Australia.

The women's and men's tennis tours have been contested largely behind closed doors over the past year, and a number of tournaments, most notably Wimbledon, have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 crisis.

The Australia public has given a cautious welcome to the arrival of the world's leading players, who have been quarantining in hotel rooms for much of the past fortnight, only allowed to briefly leave in order to train.

Ahead of the Australian Open, which begins on February 8 in Melbourne, Williams and Nadal are among a star-studded set of players who travelled to Adelaide to feature in the 'A Day at the Drive' exhibition event.

They both scored victories on Friday, with Williams defeating US Open champion Naomi Osaka 6-2 2-6 10-7 and Nadal snatching a 7-5 6-4 win over Dominic Thiem.

The delight in both at seeing crowds at a tournament was plain, with Williams saying in an on-court interview: "Thanks everyone for having us. We haven't played in front of a crowd in over a year. It's been a really long time."

In fact, it has not quite been a full year since the tours locked down initially, as it was early March when most tournaments began to be called off, with crowds frozen out.

Williams said the reception made the difficult past fortnight, being hidden away from the world, worth the strain for the players.

"This is really cool and then for having us and trusting us with your laws was great," said the 23-time grand slam winner. "We were so excited to be here and it's worth it."

Nadal said he was "super happy" to still be playing at the highest level and back in front of Australian crowds.

The pandemic has been carefully managed to the point where very few have the virus and it is considered safe to allow crowds into sporting events in the country.

Nadal said: "Hopefully this situation will go away quick and we will be able to enjoy fans on court [around the world].

"We're super excited to have fans at the Australian Open and today."

That optimism and excitement was shared by men's world number one Novak Djokovic, who played just one set against Jannik Sinner due to a problem with blisters on his right hand.

Eight-time Australian Open champion Djokovic told fans: "Thank you so much for coming out and making our day and making our year.

"We didn't play in front of this much crowd for 12 months. This is definitely something very special.

"It wasn't easy, obviously, with 14 days being constrained in the room and a few hours to train, but at the end of the day it was worth it because you guys made it very special today for us."

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