Tue 30 Oct, 07:23 AM
PERTH, Australia (AFP) - American superstar Serena Williams will headline the Hopman Cup here later this year.
In a major coup for the unique mixed teams event, it was announced here Tuesday that the eight-time Grand Slam champion would represent the second-seeded United States in the eight-nation tournament.
Williams, currently ranked fifth in the world, will be partnered by 40th-ranked Mardy Fish in the event, which runs from December 29-January 4.
The Hopman Cup will be an important part of the former world No.1's preparation for the subsequent Australian Open in Melbourne, where the 26-year-old will be defending the title she won by trouncing top seed Maria Sharapova in the final earlier this year.
At her only previous appearance in Perth, in 2003, Williams teamed with James Blake to win the Hopman Cup and went on to win the Australian Open a few weeks later.
Tournament director Paul McNamee was delighted with securing Williams to cap one of the strongest Hopman Cup fields for many years.
"Serena is the icing on the cake," McNamee said.
"She is back to six in the world, she won the Australian Open earlier this year, she is back to defend the Australian Open and she has won this tournament before.
"It shows she is damn serious about defending the Australian Open and is a great fillip for this tournament."
Williams said she was desperate to get here hands on another of the unique diamond-encrusted tennis balls presented to the winners, having given hers to her mother, Oracene Price.
She said she expected to combine well with Fish.
"I gave the winning ball to my mum, so I am determined to get another one," she said.
"Mardy is a good player and I think we'll be solid.
"Mardy plays a lot of doubles and we get along great, so we'll be fine."
Securing Williams means the eight-nation field is all but finalised, with one place left for the winner of the Asian Hopman Cup, featuring Thailand, Japan, Taipei, Korea, Uzbekistan and China and held in Thailand in November.
The groupings and seedings for the tournament were also announced on Tuesday.
The Serbian pairing of world No.3s Jelena Jankovic and Novak Djokovic are the top seeds for the tournament, with Czech Republic couple Lucie Safarova and Tomas Berdych ranked third.
Young French duo Tatiana Golovin and Gael Monfils are ranked fourth.
Serbia, France, Argentina (Gisela Dulko and Juan Ignacio Chela) and the Asian Hopman Cup winner are in Group A, while the United States, Czech Republic, Australia (Alicia Molik and Peter Luczak) and India (Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna) are in Group B.
McNamee also announced that former champion Martina Navratilova, who won 58 Grand Slam titles, would be a guest of honour at the tournament, and bring her tennis-themed art exhibition with her.
Simply Stunning, Simply Serena
57 Consecutive Weeks as World #1
Olympic Gold Medalist ('00 Doubles w/ Venus)