Serena Williams takes first step back towards Grand Slam respectability
By DENNIS PASSA, AP Sports Writer
January 15, 2007
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -- Serena Williams was back at the Australian Open, answering all the usual questions about her knee (fine), her dress (controversial) and her injured sister Venus (surprisingly sharp in practice).
After playing just four events in 2006 due to a chronic knee injury, Serena Williams nearly dropped out of the top 100 in the year-end rankings for the first time in her career, finishing at 95.
On Monday, she started her long road back to possibly challenge again for a Grand Slam when she beat 27th-seeded Mara Santangelo 6-2, 6-1 in the first round at Melbourne Park.
"I feel I have nothing to lose," said Williams. "There is only one way I can move and that's up."
It has been mostly down lately for the seven-time Grand Slam singles champion, whose last major win came at the 2005 Australian Open.
Williams returned last year to defend her title at Melbourne Park, but lost in the third round. She then dropped out of her next nine tournaments with left knee problems that began when she had surgery in 2003.
She ended a six-month layoff last year by playing two hardcourt tournaments ahead of the U.S. Open, where she needed a wild card entry and advanced to the fourth round before losing to top-seeded Amelie Mauresmo.
Four months later, she's back in Melbourne hoping to win her third Australian Open.
"My fitness is fine, I can definitely win a third title," she said. "My mom and my dad always taught me to think positive. For me to sit here and say no now, I just can't do that."
But minutes later, she admits this might be a rebuilding year.
"I'm definitely looking at working my way back more than anything," said Williams. "I think about the opportunity that I have. After this, I have absolutely no points coming off for two more Grand Slams, which I'm bound to do well at.
"And also all the tournaments in between. I look at it that way. It looks good."
Williams wore a lime green dress Monday, one of her fashion creations that she was wearing for the first time.
Television commentators questioned whether it might been a distraction for Santangelo because the color of her dress was similar to the ball.
"Yeah, I thought about that the whole time I was designing the dress," Williams joked. "I can't beat these girls; I've got to think of every way to cheat."
But she added, seriously: "I never thought about that, to be honest with you. It wouldn't affect me -- That's the attitude I take."
Williams is in Australia without Venus, who has played only two matches since Wimbledon last year because of a long-term wrist injury.
Gone are the days when Serena and Venus would come into any Grand Slam as favorites, with pundits complaining that women's tennis was boring because the two were short odds to play in the final.
Family loyalties aside, Serena says she's happy Venus isn't in Melbourne.
"No offense, but I was practicing with her in Florida, and she was just killing me," she said. "I'm kind of glad she didn't make it, for my sake. She's playing unbelievable. I got to take my chance now."
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