18yo Russian Potapova tasked with derailing Serena’s record Grand Slam quest in Aus Open 1st round

Russia’s Anastasia Potapova has had the responsibility of halting Serena Williams’ charge for a 24th Grand Slam title bestowed upon her 18-year-old shoulders as the two have been paired in the Australian Open 2020 1st round.

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Eighteen-year-old Potapova earned her place in the Australian Open by virtue of her top-100 world ranking, where she sits in a respectable but not exceptional 90th place, considering she achieved a career-high 64th last year.

The question is could Potapova do what compatriot and court starlet Maria Sharapova couldn’t and finally beat Serena Williams as the American juggernaut chases down that record-equalling but essentially still elusive 24th Grand Slam crown.

We all know the ins and outs of the Serena-Sharapova rivalry. We’ve heard the headlines, seen the stats and read all the rhetoric that a tenuous rivalry can be made from Serena’s 18 wins Moscow-born Sharapova against just two defeats.

More cynical tennis observers are little too long in the tooth for the same old hot air and hogwash over that particular. The task to derail the Serena express lies with the new generation of players, and on Monday teenage starlet Anastasia Potapova will be the latest hurdle in the 38-year-old’s path into a further annal of tennis history.

Four times Serena has reached a Grand Slam final since giving birth to daughter Olympia. And each of those four times she has failed to register a single set, the last of those coming against Bianca Andreescu in last year’s US Open final. 

Andreescu herself told RT Sport at Moscow’s Kremlin Cup last year that it will be the current peer group of herself, double major winner Naomi Osaka and world number one Ashleigh Barty that will fill the void left by the ever-fading legend of Serena.

Potapova will be looking to equal her best ever Australian Open showing by sailing past Serena and into the second round and extend Serena’s 3-year Grand Slam drought dating back to her 2017 triumph in Melbourne.

The Saratov-born player is perhaps the least likely of the current crop of Russian players in the women’s game that could spring an upset, as players such as Ekaterina Alexandrovna, Veronika Kudermetova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova are compacted into higher world rankings positions from 26 to 42.

The Russian’s luck in recent tournaments hasn’t been plentiful, but pretty much all bad, only making it past the first round or qualifiers at the W100+H DUBAI event in Dubai in any recent tour events, that includes the Brisbane and Adelaide International events that serve as warm up events to the season’s first Grand Slam.

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Williams got some game time under her belt playing in the ‘Rally for Relief’ charity match with other legends Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic to raise A$250,000 to victims of the Australian bushfires.

However, when a cynical eye is cast over the details, given that that particular trio make up the sport’s highest paid players of all time, the golden trinity managed to raise 0.07% of their combined career earnings of around $350m in prize money alone.

Elsewhere in the draw, Serena’s older sister Venus has been drawn against teenage sensation Coco Gauff, who made a name for herself by shocking her idol aged just 14 at Wimbledon and Russia’s highest world-ranked men’s player Daniil Medvedev will take on Frances Tiafoe of the USA. 

Sharapova, the 2008 champion, has been drawn against number 19 seed Donna Vekić in her first round match on Tuesday.