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'I just don't want to get in my way . . . as long as I stay relaxed, I'll be okay'

When Serena Williams' coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, suggested recently that the American could win all four grand slam titles this year, it seemed an outlandish claim that even she would not be able to live up to.

Serena Williams was typically ruthless against Ash Barty. Picture: Reuters
Serena Williams was typically ruthless against Ash Barty. Picture: Reuters

Of course, peaking for all four grand slams will take some doing but if anyone can manage it, it's Williams. Now aged 32, she looks in the best shape she has been for several years.

There have been times during her career when the American has arrived in Melbourne looking like she had skipped the off-season, only to somehow manage to win the Australian Open title almost despite her fitness. This year, everything appears to be working in sync and yesterday she made mincemeat of talented young Australian, Ash Barty, with a 6-2, 6-1 win full of power, precision and ruthlessness.

Twelve months ago, Williams looked good only to implode - partly as a result of injury - against Sloane Stephens in the quarter-finals. This time, she is determined not to let anything go wrong.

"I just don't want to get in my way," she said. "It doesn't matter whether I win or lose, as long as I have fun. As long as I'm able to stay relaxed, I'll be okay."

Should the seedings go to plan, Williams will play Li Na in the semi-finals and the Chinese made a strong start herself with a 6-2, 6-0 win over 16-year-old Ana Konjuh, a hugely talented Croat with a big game.

Li looked right on track and showed off her net skills, something she has worked on with her coach, Carlos Rodriguez. "I'm getting old so it's good to end the points faster," said the 31-year-old.

One woman who will not be winning the title is Petra Kvitova, the No.6 seed. She went down 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 to world No.88 Luksika Kumkhum of Thailand while Williams' older sister, Venus, went out in round one, beaten 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 by Elena Makarova of Russia.

Four-time men's champion Novak Djokovic, who has won in each of the past three years and who is almost as strong a title favourite as Williams, eased past Lukas Lacko of Slovakia 6-3, 7-6, 6-1 in his opening match.

The sight of Boris Becker, his new coach, sitting in the stands, was always going to be a talking point and Djokovic is hopeful the German would have the same kind of effect on him that Ivan Lendl has had on Andy Murray.

"There are parts of my game where he definitely can help me out," said Djokovic. "I still see room for improvement with my serve, the return, net play and so forth. But also from the mental point of view. That's where he can give the right input."

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