|Defending Australian Open champion Serena Williams holds the Sydney International runner-up trophy after losing to Elena Dementieva, 6-3, 6-2, yesterday. (Daniel Munoz/ Reuters)|
Serena tries to remain serene
Knee is OK, but no US Open talk
MELBOURNE - Serena Williams says her left knee is just fine and it won’t keep her from playing both singles and doubles at the Australian Open.
The defending champion said yesterday that although her knee bothered her for much of the Sydney International final the previous night, the injury wasn’t serious and it wasn’t the reason for her 6-3, 6-2 loss to Elena Dementieva.
“The knee is much better,’’ Williams said. “It was good for me to get all those matches in. So it was good.’’
She said the pain, which she only described as “definitely not ligament’’ related, hadn’t hampered her preparation for the season’s first major.
“Absolutely not,’’ she said. “If anything, it helped. I played a lot of matches in a row, back to back. I had a long three-set match. But that was good preparation for me because I do plan on playing both singles and doubles here.’’
Williams canceled a practice session yesterday because she wanted some rest to be ready for her first-round match at Melbourne Park against Poland’s Urszula Radwanska on Tuesday.
“Don’t want to push it, go too far,’’ she said of the canceled session. “Definitely want to do the best I can obviously, but also want to pace myself. Hopefully I can play seven singles rounds and six doubles rounds.’’
Urszula Radwanksa is the younger sister of Agnieszka Radwanska.
“I’ve played her before at Wimbledon, so she’s a tough cookie . . . and she’s definitely no pushover,’’ Williams said. “She’s a younger sister, and younger sisters always want to play really hard and really tough. I know that for a fact.’’
Whatever lightheartedness Williams had in her voice disappeared when she was asked about the US Open last year. A profanity-laced, finger-pointing tantrum directed at a line judge in a semifinal loss to Kim Clijsters cost Williams a record fine of $82,500.
She also faces suspension from the US Open if she has any serious outbursts at a major in the next two years.
Williams has spoken only briefly about the episode since arriving in Australia more than a week ago, and has let everyone know she doesn’t really want to talk about it.
So she didn’t take kindly to this question from an Australian journalist: “Last time we saw you in a Grand Slam, there was that little incident in New York. How is your anger management coming along?’’
“Was it anger management, do you think?’’ Williams replied, obviously perturbed. “How is your writing coming along?’’
When the journalist replied: “Just fine, thank you,’’ Williams said: “Great. Ditto, kiddo.’’
Williams’s eruption overshadowed the apex of Clijsters’s comeback. Four months later, the return of another Belgian from retirement has bolstered the field in Melbourne and created a compelling women’s draw.
Justine Henin, who won seven Grand Slam singles titles and quit in May 2008 while No. 1 ranked, is only one tournament into her comeback, but is hoping to emulate Clijsters’s successful return to the majors.
While the men’s champion at Melbourne Park is widely expected to come from the group of top five players led by Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic - who’ve won the last three Australian titles - the list of women’s contenders is growing.
Clijsters, a former world No. 1, has quickly regained her form after two years away, winning two titles in five tournaments.
Besides Clijsters and Henin, Williams also has Maria Sharapova to contend with this year.
Sharapova won the 2008 Australian Open, but was unable to defend last year after right shoulder surgery kept her off the tour for almost 10 months.
Then there’s the other Russians: second-seeded Dinara Safina, a three-time Grand Slam finalist who is returning from a back injury; third-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova, the reigning French Open champion; and Dementieva, the 2008 Olympic gold medalist.
Federer finished his last match in Melbourne Park in tears after a five-set final loss to Nadal cost him a chance of equaling Pete Sampras’s record of 14 career Grand Slam singles titles.
In the wake of that defeat, he married longtime girlfriend Mirka Vavrinec, returned to the No. 1 ranking, then won his first French Open title to equal Sampras’s mark and complete a career Grand Slam of all four majors. Then after adding to the record by outlasting Andy Roddick in the Wimbledon final, 16-14, in the fifth set, he became the father of twin daughters.
But on the cusp of a third consecutive major, he was upset in the US Open final by Argentine Juan Martin del Potro, ending the Swiss player’s run at five straight titles in New York.
The win was a boost for del Potro, who displaced Andy Murray at No. 4 last week to ensure he’ll avoid the top three players at least until the semifinals at Melbourne Park.