22-time Grand Slam singles champion Serena Williams will be looking to return as the world number one as soon as possible. However, the American returns to the Australian Open, looking to win a seventh title Down Under. The second seed only managed to win one Grand Slam, which was Wimbledon in 2016 to equal Steffi Graf's Open Era record of 22 Grand Slams.
Opposing Williams, on the other side of the net, is former world number seven, Belinda Bencic. The former Swiss number one endured injuries in 2016, which has derailed her progress. Nonetheless, whilst Bencic may not be in top form, she will be a formidable opponent for the former world number one.
Williams' results leading up to Melbourne
The six-time champion returned to competitive tennis for the first time in almost four months at the ASB Classic in Auckland. The American lost to Karolina Pliskova in the semifinals of the US Open last September. Angelique Kerber went on to claim the top spot from Williams, via Pliskova's victory. Nonetheless, the American won her first match in Auckland in straight sets against Pauline Parmentier. However, Williams suffered a shocking second-round exit losing to compatriot Madison Brengle in three sets. The American was unable to deal with the windy conditions and made a slight dig at the tournament saying that she wouldn't have to deal with those conditions in Melbourne.
Bencic's results leading up to Melbourne
The 19-year-old began her preparations for the first Grand Slam of the year at the Hopman Cup in Perth. The former world number seven won her two singles matches over Britain's Heather Watson and Andrea Petkovic, however, she lost to good friend Kristina Mladenovic in three sets. Bencic also competed in the mixed doubles with compatriot and four-time champion, Roger Federer. The duo was formidable defeating the combination of Dan Evans and Watson, along with the German duo of Petkovic and Alexander Zverev. However, they lost to France's Richard Gasquet and Mladenovic in the Hopman Cup final.
The Swiss number two would compete in her first tour match of the year at the Sydney International. Unfortunately, a toe injury forced Bencic to retire from her first round match with Yulia Putintseva, despite winning the opening set.
Williams and Bencic have met on two occasions, and the duo is tied at 1-1 in their head-to-head meetings. The American defeated Bencic in their first meeting on the clay courts in the first round of the Mutua Madrid Open in 2014, 6-2, 6-1. However, Bencic would stun the former world number one in the semifinals of the Coupe Rogers in Montreal in 2015, 3-6, 7-5, 6-4, en route to winning the biggest title of her career to date.
This will be a tough first round match for both players to deal with. But, it is a challenge that Williams is looking forward to. She alluded to the fact in her press conference, that it will be a good match for both players, and the American needs this sort of test early on as the second seed knows that she will have to bring her best tennis from start to finish.
Bencic will have nothing to lose in this match as the 19-year-old is on the comeback trail from injuries, which have intervened over the past year. Moreover, the Swiss number two has the tools to challenge Williams. Bencic's game is similar to Wiliams' former rival, Martina Hingis, as she plays with a flat forehand and clean two-handed backhand. The 2014 US Open quarterfinalist knows that she will have to get the former world number one out of her comfort zone by mixing up her play.
Yet, Williams knows that this match is on her racquet, and she will need to serve well in this intriguing first round encounter, and keep Bencic at bay. The current world number 59's serve will be punished by one of the best returner's on tour if it is not firing on all cylinders.
This is the second match scheduled in the Rod Laver Arena, following the match between fifth seed Karolina Pliskova and Spain's Sorribes Tomo. They could be on the court at around 12:30 pm local time, which will be a thriller for the fans to enjoy. The winner of this match will face either 2015 French Open finalist Lucie Safarova or Yanina Wickmayer in the second round.
Prediction: Williams in straight sets