Tunisian Ons Jabeur has started the new season with new coach, Diego Veronelli, in her corner and her husband, Karim Kamoun, serving as her fitness trainer, as she looks to back up her breakthrough 2017 with more success over the next 12 months.
Jabeur, who became the first Arab woman to reach the third round of a Grand Slam in singles at last year's Roland Garros, is ranked 95 in the world and will be playing just her second major as a direct entrant this fortnight in Melbourne.
The 23-year-old starts her Australian Open campaign against 16th-seeded Elena Vesnina on Tuesday, looking for her first match win of the 2018 season.
Jabeur spent the first part of her preparations for 2018 at Empire Tennis Academy in Trnava, Slovakia alongside other WTA players like Daria Kasatkina and Kateryna Kozlova, before travelling to Dubai, where she met up with her new coach Veronelli, who previously coached Heather Watson.
"It's going pretty good, I like the practice with him. It's a new challenge, new experience for me so I'm looking forward to our first tournament and see how it goes," Jabeur told Sport360 in Dubai last month.
The 28-year-old Slovakian broke through during an era when teenagers making waves on the tennis circuit was the norm, rather than an anomaly. But that hasn’t been the trend recently, with both the men’s and women’s tours witnessing lots of dominance from players in, or near, their 30s.
Last season though, a 20-year-old Jelena Ostapenko stormed to the French Open title, and with Serena Williams absent, the No. 1 spot switched hands multiple times throughout the year implying the winds of change were finally catching up with the WTA.
A 17-year-old Marketa Vondrousova won a title in Biel. A 19-year-old Daria Kasatkina claimed the Premier title in Charleston. A 22-year-old Elina Svitolina picked up two Premier 5 trophies and cracked the top-five. There were quite a few signs that the younger generation was ready to rise.
Cibulkova doesn’t feel 2017 was as transitional as people are making it out to be though.
Serena Williams “absolutely” intends to surpass Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam titles and believes being a new mother can help her achieve that goal.
The 36-year-old, who gave birth to her first daughter Alexis Olympia in September, decided to pull out of the Australian Open following concerns over her ability to make an impact in Melbourne.
Williams won the last of her 23 Grand Slams Down Under in 2017, defeating her sister Venus in the final when, it would later emerge, she was in the early stages of her pregnancy.
The American former world number one had returned to the court on December 30 at the Mubadala World tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi, where she lost an exhibition match against Jelena Ostapenko, the 2017 French Open champion.
Despite admitting she was “not where I personally want to be” in announcing her withdrawal from the Australian Open, which starts on January 15, Williams told Vogue she was determined to return to a competitive level sooner rather than later.
“Maybe this goes without saying, but it needs to be said in a powerful way: I absolutely want more Grand Slams. I’m well aware of the record books, unfortunately. It’s not a secret that I have my sights on 25, and actually, I think having a baby might help,” Williams told the February edition of the magazine.
“When I’m too anxious I lose matches, and I feel like a lot of that anxiety disappeared when Olympia was born.
“Knowing I’ve got this beautiful baby to go home to makes me feel like I don’t have to play another match. I don’t need the money or the titles or the prestige. I want them, but I don’t need them. That’s a different feeling for me.”
Williams feels her life off the court with all the challenges of a new mother will only bring a positive influence to her game.
“Sometimes I get really down and feel like, ‘Man, I can’t do this’, it is that same negative attitude I have on the court sometimes,” the American added.
“I guess that’s just who I am. No one talks about the low moments — the pressure you feel, the incredible letdown every time you hear the baby cry.
“I’ve broken down I don’t know how many times, or I’ll get angry about the crying, then sad about being angry, and then guilty, like, ‘Why do I feel so sad when I have a beautiful baby?’. The emotions are insane.”