Wed, Jan 17, 2007 - Page 18 News List

Serena Williams starts long road back

AP , MELBOURNE

Serena Williams was emphatically 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 last year 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 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," Williams said. "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 US Open, where she needed a wild card entry and advanced to the fourth round before losing to No. 1 seed 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 rebuilding year.

"I'm definitely looking at working my way back more than anything," Williams said. "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."

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