From AO's official site
Williams Adds Bling to Open Banter
by Amanda Buivids
Saturday, 14 January, 2006
She may well be hovering three places outside the top 10 and trailing older sister Venus in the rankings, however, Australian Open defending champion Serena Williams looked every part a world No.1 on the eve of this year's event.
Despite her first non-top 10 finish in seven years, the 24-year-old declared herself fully fit and prepared for her seventh Australian Open appearance.
Wearing a bright green T-shirt, two sparkling fuschia pendants and lip gloss from her fashion-line, Williams looked, acted and exuded the confidence of the woman who held aloft the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup 12 months ago.
"I've had more time to prepare this year. I've had more time to prepare mentally and much more physically,"
she said at a media conference at Melbourne Park on Saturday.
"My preparation has been pretty cool … I've been here almost a week.
"As long as I don't beat myself, I'll be okay."
Since her arrival in Australia, the world No.13 has attracted unsavory attention about her fitness - particularly after her lengthy injury lay-off in 2005 and withdrawal from last week's Hong Kong exhibition tournament.
She was the butt of jokes following the publication of a series of less-than-flattering newspaper photographs of her and Venus exercising along Melbourne's Yarra River.
"I saw one (photograph) of me running. And I was like, wow, my hamstring muscle is that big? I had no idea my muscle was like that," she laughed.
On a serious note, though, the former world No.1 confirmed she was very much focused on the forthcoming fortnight.
"It's usually just one match at a time for me. That's the only way I look at it," she said.
"That's how I've looked at it since day one. If I didn't like my chances of winning, I wouldn't be here.
"If I didn't expect to do well here, I wouldn't be here.
It would be better for me to be on the beach, St Baarts, jet skis. It would be much easier."
Despite her carefree response to fitness concerns, she sounded a warning to anyone who questioned her preparation for the first Grand Slam of 2006.
"That's cool with me … that's fine because then people will be like 'Okay, she won't be able to run'. That's a great position to be in."
Setting goals has been part of Willams' repertoire since emerging on the world stage with her first Grand Slam singles title - the US Open - in 1999.
With career prize money totaling more than $US15 million, seven singles Grand Slam titles and 26 career tour titles etched in her scrapbooks, Williams is determined to reclaim the No.1 crown that she first held in July 2002.
The 2005 Australian Open title was the only career high point in an injury-curtailed season.
Plagued by ankle and knee injuries, the fashion design student won only 14 matches from nine events following the Open, reached only one semi-final and failed to qualify for the season-ending championships for the first time since 1998.
"I've always criticised Pete Sampras for saying, you know, he wanted to win lots of Grand Slams," she said on Saturday.
"It was like 'Don't you want to be the best?' I definitely want to be No.1 in the world. I can understand what he's saying because there is nothing like winning a Grand Slam. Both the goals are definitely what I want to do, but it all starts with winning the Slams first."
The confident American plays Na Li from China in her first round match. The pair will clash in the opening Twilight Session on Rod Laver Arena.
Na Li is one of seven Chinese players to make the final 128 in the women's singles draw.
With a singles ranking of 57, the 172cm right-hander reached her second career tour singles final in 2005 and briefly held the position as China's highest-ranked woman in tour history.
A semi-finalist in Hobart, Rabat and Bali and a doubles-semi-finalist in Rabat with Australia's Nicole Pratt, Li will be keen to consolidate her form at the elite level after missing the French Open with an ankle injury and Wimbledon because of commitments in the Chinese national championships.
She reached the third round of the 2005 Australian Open, defeated by Russian Maria Sharapova 0-6 2-6.
"I've always said, everyone talks about the Russians
, and I've always thought the Chinese have a great slew of players coming up," Williams said.
"There are so many Chinese players right now. Not only are they in the draw, but they are actually doing well. I'm going to have to be really ready for the match. I'm definitely not under-estimating my opponent at all."
While Serena Williams wore the confidence and bling of her budding fashion and jewellery empire, Venus, too, was happy with her approach to this year's Open.
Ranked three spots higher than her younger sister, Venus is also keen to begin 2006 as a winner - and as Australian Open champion.
"I think I have a decent chance. My whole thing is I'm not thinking about the final right now. I'm so totally focused on the first round, that's my main goal now. Then it will be round two. I'm not taking it too fast," she said.
"At the end of the day, it's always an even playing field. You don't win a match until it's over. You don't win the tournament until it's over. I think it's important not be over-confident. I think that can be a big flaw, a big downfall. I mean, we all saw what happened to Macbeth. You've got to be careful."
The 25-year-old, who claimed the world No.1 crown in February 2002, enters this year's Open at No.10 - a career ranking she believes she will improve on over the next 15 days.
"Hey, in my head, I'm always a champ. I won't usurp anyone's position, anyone ahead of me. They're obviously worked hard to get to that number. So right now I'm going to work on moving up my ranking … you guys all know what number I feel I am …"
Venus Williams meets Bulgaria's Tzvetana Pironkova in her opening round match. A member of the Bulgarian Fed Cup team in 2005, Pironkova, 18, makes her first appearance on the Rebound Ace at Melbourne Park.
Ranked 88 in the world, Pironkova has met Venus Williams on just the one occasion - losing in straight sets in May last year in a semi-final at a Tier 111 tournament in Istanbul, Turkey.