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Harder at No. 1 for Serena

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MELBOURNE (AFP) – Serena Williams has the Open-era record for Grand Slam titles within her grasp but it’s getting tougher at the top as the American great seeks finally to eclipse Germany’s Steffi Graf.

Victory at this month’s Australian Open and a 23rd major win would help ease the heartache of last year, when Williams slipped off the top of the rankings after 186 weeks – matching, but just failing to beat, another Graf record.

Williams’ drop to world number two was triggered by her shock defeat to Karolina Pliskova in the US Open semi-finals, which also denied her another chance to better Graf’s 22 Grand Slam victories.

Pliskova was the sixth player to beat Williams in 2016, suggesting that the women’s tour is becoming increasingly challenging for the 35-year-old.

Last year, Williams’ haul of two trophies was her smallest since her injury-hit 2011.

It also took her four attempts move off 21 Slam titles and equal Steffi Graf’s record of 22 – slow by her standards, after she won three out of four majors in 2015.

‘’It gets harder the older you get and the young ones coming up,’’ said US Fed Cup captain Mary Joe Fernandez, after Williams’ defeat to Pliskova.

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