Mon, Jan 19, 2009 - Page 20 News List

Williams sisters lead chase for glory at Australian Open

AFP , MELBOURNE

Venus Williams speaks to the press ahead of the Australian Open in Melbourne, Australia, on Saturday.

PHOTO: EPA

The Williams sisters have emerged as the bookies’ favorites for more Grand Slam glory at this year’s Australian Open, but the field remains wide open.

Triple champion Serena just pips her sister Venus as favorite, with other realistic contenders including world No. 1 Jelena Jankovic, fellow Serb Ana Ivanovic and Russian pair Dinara Safina and in-form Elena Dementieva.

The ever-confident Serena is searching for her 10th Grand Slam title and gets her campaign underway against China’s Meng Yuan on tomorrow.

“I’m actually pretty happy about my preparation. I felt like I got some really good matches under me in Sydney and still with plenty of time to rest and get ready for this event,” she said.

Williams added that she felt she was a better player now than five years ago when she dominated the game, winning Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open in a storming 2002.

“I hope I’m better than what I was five years ago. I would say that I am,” she said.

VENUS

Seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus has never won the title here but feels the time could be ripe for her to lift the trophy.

“I don’t feel any extra pressure or anything like that because I haven’t been fortunate enough to win here,” she said ahead of her opener against Germany’s Angelique Kerber, also tomorrow. “I just stay focused on what I need to do. Obviously, I want to win every event. I feel good. I definitely feel like one of the players who has the opportunity to take it home.”

On-song Olympic champion Dementieva is a dark horse but clings to the belief that she can break through for her first Grand Slam title after 10 years of under-achievement.

The world No. 4 is in a rich vein of form, capturing back-to-back WTA titles in Auckland and Sydney.

Dementieva, 27, is confident she can become the second oldest maiden women’s Slam winner of the Open era, after Czech Jana Novotna (29) at Wimbledon in 1998.

“I do have such goals in my career, and I’m trying to achieve them. I don’t know if it’s going to come soon or not, but I’m trying so hard,” she said.

CALM AND COOL

Serbia’s Jankovic is world No. 1 despite never winning a Grand Slam, and is another who could be poised to go the distance after crashing in the semis to Sharapova last year. She is relaxed about her chances.

“If I win it, you know, it’s great for me. But I play because I like to play. I enjoy the sport,” she said. “If I win a Grand Slam, it will be great result, great achievement. But I’m already No. 1 and I believe all of these girls here want to be where I am now. So I’m just enjoying it and really having fun.”

Ivanovic, who lost to Sharapova in last year’s final, was bundled out of the Brisbane International last week in the quarter-finals by Amelie Mauresmo.

The French Open champion knows she has to knuckle down if she is to have any chance here.

The effervescent 21-year-old needs a lift after a poor second half of last season. After winning her first Grand Slam at Roland Garros, she lost 10 out of 20 matches and won only one title, a tier-two event in Linz.

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