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Venus Preps For Another Title Hunt In Australia

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Melbourne hasn't been a happy hunting ground for reigning Wimbledon champion Venus Williams, but she approaches the Australian Open this year in prime form.

The six-time Grand Slam champion will be playing her ninth Australian Open, having made the final in 2003 and the semis in 2001.

But she has struggled here in recent times. She pulled out with a wrist injury last year, was sent packing in the first round in 2006, and failed to get beyond the fourth round in 2004 and 2005.

This, though, could be her breakthrough year after a solid 2007 when she bounced back from injury to win Wimbledon and power her way back into the world's top 10.

She got off to the best possible start this month by winning the JB Group Classic invitational event in Hong Kong this month, crushing Maria Sharapova in the final despite not playing a competitive game since Bangkok last October.

The American, 27, is one of the few players who seems able to win tournaments with minimum preparation and she feels ready for the Grand Slam challenge.

"It is very exciting, especially going into the Australian, playing so well against someone of her calibre," she said after beating Sharapova, who lost to Serena Williams in the Australian Open final last year.

"I knew I was playing well in practice, but a match is different ... to have that competition makes a huge difference," added the world number eight.

"I am so excited to be back playing tennis, this time last year I was not even on tour."

What could come back to haunt her are the injuries that wrecked her 2006 and cut short her 2007 campaign.

During the Hong Kong tournament she received treatement for back and hamstring problems as well as a recurrence of the persistent wrist injury which forced her to miss last year's trip to Melbourne.

But she is confident she can cope.

"I think every athlete has a certain tolerance for pain, I can't say mine is extremely high, but I felt good enough for the match (against Sharapova)," she said.

As well as Wimbledon, Williams won in Memphis and Seoul last year to take her tournament title tally to 36, the third most prolific winner among active players, behind only Lindsay Davenport and Justine Henin.

Ranked eight in the world, one behind sister and defending champion Serena, Williams' dominant serve, which twice reached 128mph last season, bettering her own Tour record of 127mph set in 1998, is her killer weapon.

When not playing tennis, she runs her own company, V Starr Interiors, in Florida, and graduated from design college late last year, one of the few current tennis players to have a degree.

As well as singles, she will team with sister Serena to play doubles here.

The pair have not played together at the Australian Open since they won the title for the second time in three years in 2003.

Organisers said because injuries have sidelined them from playing in doubles events for so long they now have a nominal ranking of 9999.

In all the sisters have won six majors (Wimbledon and Australian Open twice, US and French) and an Olympic gold medal in Sydney in 2000.

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