The Courier Mail
By John Thirsk
SYDNEY tennis fans could get an unexpected New Year bonus next week with speculation rising that one of the fabulous Williams sisters will accept the final wildcard into the women's singles draw at the adidas International.
Tournament officials have kept alive a wildcard entry to Sydney's showcase event in the hope either Serena or Venus will request a last-minute start.
And management sources yesterday indicated a Sydney visit is still very much on the cards, with Serena the most likely candidate given that Venus is playing an exhibition event in Hong Kong.
Adidas International tournament director Craig Watson said yesterday the final wildcard could be delayed until as late as the draw on Saturday.
"If either of the Williams sisters request a wildcard the tournament will be thrilled to welcome them back to Sydney," Watson said.
The Williams sisters are keen for match practice after long stints away from the circuit.
Neither Serena nor Venus has played since the Wimbledon final, won by Serena for the second consecutive year.
Since then Serena, 22, has undergone knee surgery, while Venus, 23, has been sidelined with a recurring muscle strain.
After missing the US Open, won by Serena in 2002 - again an all-Williams final - the sisters mourned the death of elder sister Yetunde, who was gunned down in an LA shooting in September.
The Williams' on-court inactivity means they risk going into the first grand slam championship of the year at the Australian Open starting January 19 without tournament play in six months.
For that reason, the high-quality adidas International looms as an attractive option for the superstars. Australia's best young women's prospect, 19-year-old Samantha Stosur of the Gold Coast, and the new Russian sensation, Maria Sharapova, 16, are possible wildcard choices should the Williams sisters declare their unavailability.
Already Australia's Fed Cup players Alicia Molik and Nicole Pratt have been given wildcards.
There is also a lottery in the men's field with former champions Hyung Tuik-Lee (2003) and Karol Kucera (1998) in the mix for the last men's wildcard.
Consideration is also being given to two of the world's best teenagers - Australia's Chris Guccione, who played the Wimbledon junior final this year, and France's Richard Gasquet, who at 16 in 2002 became the youngest ever player to finish inside the top 200 rankings.
Again tournament officials have smiled kindly on Australians with Davis Cup hitting partner Todd Reid and teammate Wayne Arthurs awarded two of the three men's wildcards.
When 14-time grand slam champion Pete Sampras won successive NSW Open titles at White City in 1994, the American was granted a late wildcard.
The following week he went on to win the first of two grand slam championships at Melbourne Park.
Serena was due to play the Hopman Cup this week in Perth, but decided to withdraw saying she was not quite ready to resume under full tournament conditions.
There is always the possibility the sisters could play doubles at the Sydney International Tennis Centre, where Venus won the Olympic Games gold medal at Sydney 2000.