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Nadal and Williams have hardened their grips on number one

| 08.01.2014

World number ones Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams sent out individual reminders to rest of the tour that the winter break has done them no harm by picking up titles at the first opportunity of the new campaign.

Nadal came through a deciding set against Gael Monfils to win the 61st title of his career at the Qatar Open ahead of next week’s Australian Open and at 5/2 for victory in Melbourne the rampant Spaniard will have plenty of supporters.

It is the first time the 27-year-old has won on his first outing of a new season and he will be grateful for all the good omens available as he attempts to improve his record in Australia where he has had the least success from all the Grand Slams.

The Pearl of Manacor secured his sixth major in Down Under in 2009 but was comprehensively beaten at the quarter-final stage the following two years before roaring back to form in 2012 when edged out by four-time winner Novak Djokovic 7-5 in the fifth set.

Injuries kept Nadal from competing last year, a patient move that was rewarded with interest as he went on to dominate the entire tour on his return before the French Open.

It’s always difficult to judge form at the beginning of the season especially when the favourite for the first Slam of the year Novak Djokovic has made the decision to return to his successful 2012 strategy of making the major his first event of his calendar.

What it does do though is allay any fears of injuries reoccurring or the previous season’s exploits taking too much of a toll on preparations for the new campaign.

Qatar showed that Nadal is ready to win in Melbourne, however, Djokovic’s absence doesn’t mean he will be any less so.

Meanwhile, Williams will feel far more at home, having won five of her 17 Grand Slams at the Australian Open, the same number of times the all-conquering American has triumphed at Wimbledon and the US Open.

The 32-year-old defended her Brisbane title in no uncertain terms, beating Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka in the semi-finals and final without dropping a set.

Worryingly for the WTA as a whole, those two women are supposedly two of her closest rivals, however, victory over Sharapova was William’s 14th consecutive victory over the Russian while Sunday’s win over Azarenka was her 14th in 17 meetings.

This alone justifies pre-tournament odds of 5/6 as Williams looks to have carried all of her momentum from a remarkable 2013 where she lost only four of 82 matches, lifted 11 titles and went a career-best 34 consecutive victories before falling to Sabine Lisicki at SW19.

The Florida-born star is now on a streak of 22 matches and it would be an extremely brave punter to back against her extending it to 29 games by the time the first Grand Slam of the year is over.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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Sam Foster