Martina On The Sisters
With no seeded Americans, Australian Open women's draw looks wide open
By PAUL ALEXANDER, Associated Press Writer
January 13, 2007
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -- The Australian Open will be the first Grand Slam event without a seeded American woman. Serena Williams is vowing to do what she can to end that streak at one tournament.
"I take the blame for that," Williams said Saturday as she worked on her final preparations for the year's first major. "I'll try to make sure it doesn't happen anymore."
Not all of the blame can be put on Williams' shoulders for the absence of an American in the seeds. The seven-time Grand Slam singles champion is coming off her third straight injury-plagued year, one in which she played in only four tournaments and saw her ranking slide to No. 140, the first time she was out of the top 100 since she made her pro debut nine years earlier.
Sister Venus is battling a nagging wrist injury. Lindsay Davenport is sitting out to have a baby. And no other American woman has yet to distance themselves from the current crop of youthful wannabes.
Serena is back up to 95th and coming off a promising effort at a warmup tournament in Hobart that left her feeling upbeat.
"I just expect to go out there and most of all have fun," said Williams, who has won two Australian titles but is unseeded this year.
Other players aren't sure what to expect from Williams, who sets the pace with her power and rises or falls on how well she does it.
"She'll just have to play her game," said sixth-seeded Martina Hingis, who knows a little about comebacks after returning from retirement a year ago. "She never depended really on anybody else. With the sisters, it's always been either they are on or they're not. It's always if they really want it and they're hungry."
Serena, whose fitness and preparation has been questioned in the past, showed up early in Australia. She played in Hobart, where she got in eight sets over three matches, and is happy with her warmup. The main thing is working on her mechanics.
"I think if I do that well, then I'll be fine," Williams said.
But she faces a daunting road here, with the same challenges as any unseeded player.
She faces 27th-seeded Mara Santangelo of Italy in the first round and could have to beat four of the top five seeds to win the tournament.
Still, she's far from the only intriguing story here.
Fourth-seeded Kim Clijsters, who won a warmup tournament in Sydney on Friday, is planning to retire at the end of the year to start a family even though she's at the top of her game. Fellow Belgian Justine Henin-Hardenne, a finalist at all four Grand Slams last year, pulled out, citing personal reasons and will lose her No. 1 ranking.
Hingis, who once dominated the sport, is out to reclaim the top spot. Amelie Mauresmo, who once seemed destined to never win a major, is playing with confidence after winning here and at Wimbledon last year. And Maria Sharapova is aiming to prove she deserves the top seed.
"I've been in two semis here," said Sharapova, who won the last major, the U.S. Open. "I'm just ready to take it to the next level, hopefully get to the final or win it."
Sharapova, who lost to Clijsters in the final in Hong Kong a week ago, looked relaxed and confident.
"I might not have that many matches under my belt, but I feel fresh, I feel healthy, which is most important," she said.
The 19-year-old Sharapova said she could see herself putting away her rackets at 24, like Clijsters, but is focused on winning matches now.
"I'm definitely enjoying what I'm doing right now," Sharapova said. "I love the feeling of going on the court and trying to get myself better. I still have that motivation to work hard."