Watch out world - Serena’s back
Serena Williams is at her fittest both physically and emotionally since returning from the birth of her daughter, according to her coach who has declared he believes an eighth Australian Open title is within reach.
Williams will play Karolina Pliskova in a quarter-final on Wednesday after defeating world No. 1 Simona Halep, with coach Patrick Mouratoglou admitting he did not think she was ready to win the US Open six months ago.
But now is a different story - she is "back to being Serena".
"I think she's fitter than she was last year, because even though she made really a lot of efforts to come back in shape last year, I don't think she had enough time," he said.
"Having a baby is a big thing. So for a top-level athlete to come back and be 100 per cent fit after having a baby any time, I think there was not enough time.
"So I think now she's ready physically. I think emotionally too because it's a big change in anyone's life to have a baby and you need to get used to a new life, and it took a bit of time.
"But I feel now she's back to being Serena on both the physical and emotional side. So I think her level is good. I think she needed a big fight, and it happened today and I think it's a great thing. Especially when it ends like that."
She is now the short-priced favourite to claim the title on Saturday night, which Mouratoglou believes is achievable.
"I think she will win," he said.
"I don't read in the future so I cannot say she will win, but I think she will win, yes."
He said he had been fearful of training Williams following her comeback at the French Open, saying he "didn't want to make her move on the court because I thought it was dangerous for her".
"Then there is the emotional part also and the transformation … she's a professional tennis player and she becomes a mother and it's a big transformation in her life, and I don't think that it's something that you deal with easily," he said.
"You know, you need to also adapt to your new life, and I think it took time too."
Mouratoglou, who has coached Williams since 2012, said he had never come across a player like her, citing one anecdote that he said captured her determination.
"When you start this job, you have an idea of what a champion is in terms of mindset, and she just come from that 100 per cent," he said.
"She doesn't think like the other players.
"I have worked with a lot of players in my life. I have worked with thousands of players, from young players to pros to juniors to top juniors to top pros, and there is only one Serena in terms of mindset. "And that explains why there is only one Serena with this career that is completely -- those two things are completely synch."
He said the 2013 French Open stood out as an example.
"Roland Garros has always been a difficult tournament for her in the past, and when we started 2012 she just lost in the first round," Mouratoglou recalled.
"And after she started to win grand slams again, she won Wimbledon, US Open, Olympic gold … she told me she was struggling to win Roland Garros. Last time she won it I think was in 2002 and we were in 2013 when she started to talk to me about that.
"We made a plan, and she worked incredibly hard to win this one, and she won it in 2013. So 11 years after.
"After the trophy ceremony, she went to stretch … after two minutes she turned to me and said, 'Now we have to win Wimbledon'.
"She already forgot it. She was chasing something for 11 years … and 10 minutes after she was already focusing on the next goal. That's different. There are guys who win one tournament and they celebrate for 15 years."
Mouratoglou had admitted after the US Open controversy that he had signalled to his charge, resulting in a warning for coaching.
But he said their relationship was stronger than one incident and that Williams was "very loyal".
He was adamant that he did not believe she was more motivated after what occurred, but refused to be drawn on whether he thought Williams would be affected if chair umpire Carlos Ramos - central to the furore - was appointed to one of her upcoming matches.
"I cannot answer for her," he said.
"I don't want to answer for her. How she would feel, I don't know."
Experience the best of international tennis LIVE. SIGN UP NOW!