Why should you back Serena?
1. We can see from past history that this is when Serena (currently priced at tennis odds of around 4.7 (+370) favorite to defend the Australian Open) is at her most dangerous. This time, she needs to redeem herself and save her reputation following the much-publicized on-court US Open indiscretions (not necessarily from her own perspective, but to many of her devoted fans across the world). Everybody could forget that wrath-filled half a minute very quickly if she could just defend her title at the Australian Open. In this regard, no player can channel their anger into a fortnight of focused aggression quite like Serena can. Just remember her US Open quarter-final defeat to Jennifer Capriati in 2004, where Serena felt a contentious decision by the chair umpire turned the match against her. She then returned emphatically in the next Grand Slam event to win the 2005 Australian Open.
2. Serena's injury-affected defeat to Elena Dementieva (16.0 (+1500) to win the Australian Open in the Sydney International final was her first since October. Up until that point, Serena had secured victory in ten of her previous 11 hard court matches to put her at number one in the world once again. With the Australian Open also played on her favored hard courts, Serena is in a great state, both emotionally and physically, to achieve a successful Melbourne title defense for the first time.
3. The top seed should be very happy with the way the draw has worked out. Victoria Azarenka (38.0 (+3700) to win in Melbourne) is Serena's likely quarter-final opponent, although the young Belarussian hasn't proved her critics wrong as of yet at Grand Slam level. With Caroline Wozniacki (24.0 (+2300)) or sister Venus (17.5 (+1650)) likely to be waiting in the last four, it means she can only meet Kim Clijsters (4.9 (+390)) or Justine Henin (7.0 (+600)) in the final. Her Sydney conqueror Dementieva is also in the other half.
4. Right now, Serena boasts 11 Grand Slam singles titles, which puts her seventh on the all-time list of female Grand Slam singles champions. However, she doesn't have much of a realistic chance to reach the record mark held by Margaret Court. This said, if she can defend her title in Melbourne, Serena would be pulled level on 12 Slams with American tennis legend Billie-Jean King, one of her heroes. Serena is bound to have additional motivation taking all this into account.
Why might Serena be one to avoid?
1. A sore left knee clearly caused her issues during her Sydney final loss against Dementieva. Serena has just days left now to recover prior to a first round match versus Poland's Urzula Radwanska. Even if she wins that one as she is expected to do, can we guarantee that her body is in the best shape to handle the ultimate test of seven matches in just a fortnight in the overwhelming Melbourne heat?
2. As a result of the way the draw has occurred, Serena can face just one of Clijsters or Henin, and that will only be in the final. However, the American will be aware that this is a real possibility. The line judge drama at the US Open actually took attention away from the fact that Serena was struggling badly to live with the power and accuracy of Clijsters in that match. With only one event under her belt since her comeback, Henin is a little less likely to be waiting in the final if Serena reaches it. As Clijsters proved in New York, though, it's certainly possible and Serena has had more than her fair share of defeats to the petite Belgian in the past (Serena only leads their head-to-head 7-6; perhaps more significantly, Henin has won four of their six clashes at Grand Slam level).
3. In three previous attempts, Serena has never defended the Australian Open title with any level of success. In fact, the American has only ever made one successful defense of a Grand Slam singles title, back in 2003 when she repeated at Wimbledon. This is proof once again that it is difficult seeking repeat success at a Slam.
4. All of Serena's four Australian Open titles have come in odd-numbered years: 2003, 2005, 2007 and most recently, last season. For those superstitious stat-lovers out there... this one's for you!
So, to back her or not?
A lot depends upon whether the left knee problem that Serena suffered from in Sydney carries on troubling her through the Australian Open fortnight. Bear in mind, though, that she has carried minor knocks into Grand Slam events in the past and has still managed to hold the trophy aloft two weeks later. Given a draw that allows her to play her way into the tournament, and with a point to prove after all the fall-out from that night in New York, Serena is certainly worth backing to defend her Australian Open title for the first time and further cement her place as one of the true greats of women's tennis.