Toray Pan Pacific
Venus looks to play power game on Toray carpet
By Jim Allen
Venus Williams looked past a disappointing Australian Open exit and focused on positives Monday.
Williams, the top seed in the 1.3 million dollars Toray Pan Pacific Open, is playing in just her second official tournament since last year's Wimbledon, having missed the remainder of last season with an abdominal muscle
"I had a great trip to Australia," Venus said of her January tennis that ended with a thud in the third round at Melbourne. "I've been able to play and able to compete, which is a big step for me because I hadn't been playing for the last six months.
"Where do I go from here? Keep playing, keep competing and enjoying."
The tournament starts in earnest today at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium with the first matches getting underway at 11 a.m.
Ai Sugiyama, playing her first tournament in her home country as one of the world's top 10 players, is in the same half of the draw with Williams, who is playing her first tournament in Japan.
"This is always a tough tournament with a lot of top-10 players in the draw," said Sugiyama, ranked ninth in the world and the No. 4 seed.
"Before I get to the semifinals, I have a second-round match. I have to stay within my game and I can honestly say that I am looking ahead only as far as the next match."
Sugiyama won her first championship of the year in Australia when she captured the Uncle Toby's hard-court title in Gold Coast.
Her encore was less spectacular--she lost her next match and bailed out of Melbourne in the second round.
While Williams was touted as one of favorites for the year's first Grand Slam, her chances for a title here should be good as her power game is a perfect match for the pan Pacific.
The Toray is the only tournament to use this lightning-fast surface that favors big-hitting base-liners like Americans Williams and Lindsay Davenport, the No. 2 seed, defending champion and a three-time winner here.
"It was fine," said Williams, who like Davenport is also a former world No. 1, of the Toray carpet. "I had heard a lot about it. I like it."
Russia's Maria Sharapova, who won her first-ever professional tournament in Japan and her first WTA tournament in Tokyo last October in the Japan Open, is looking forward to trying it out in a game.
"It's kind of different," said the youngster. "It looks like grass, but it isn't. It's fast and it's low, and I think it will make for some fun tennis."
In addition to Sugiyama, who has a first-round bye, the Japan contingent consists of world No. 41 Shinobu Asagoe, No. 55 Saori Obata, qualifier Akiko Morigami, ranked 66th, and wild card entry Yuka Yoshida.
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