Serena, Agassi Seek Australian Titles
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) _ For Serena Williams and Andre Agassi, just starting the Australian Open is an improvement from last year.
Both were hurt right before the 2002 tournament. That wiped out Agassi’s hopes of winning a third straight Australian Open and, it turned out, Williams’ winning all four Grand Slam tournaments in one calendar year.
Williams twisted her right ankle chasing a drop shot in a warmup tournament in Sydney. When she recovered, she was just about invincible, winning the French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open and moving up to No. 1 in the rankings.
In the two weeks starting Monday, she is trying for a ``Serena Slam″ as reigning champion of all four major tournaments.
The last woman to do that was Steffi Graf, who added the 1994 Australian title to her victories in the other majors in 1993. Graf also is one of only three women with a true Grand Slam. She did that in 1988, following Maureen Connolly in 1953 and Margaret Court in 1970.
Serena wants to be the fourth.
``I want to be undefeated″ in 2003, she said.
That probably would mean more victories against older sister Venus, the runner-up to Serena at three Grand Slam events in 2002. If they meet in Australia, it only would be in the final because Venus _ who has four major titles to her credit _ is seeded second.
Neither sister has reached an Australian Open final. Serena’s best result was reaching the quarterfinals in 2001. Venus reached the semifinals that year.
After playing well in the United States’ victory in the Hopman Cup, Serena skipped this year’s Sydney tournament.
In contrast, Agassi went right back to the Kooyong Classic exhibition event, where he hurt his right wrist in losing last year’s final to Pete Sampras.
He won the Australian Open after winning at Kooyong in 2000 and 2001, and he won at Kooyong again Saturday, beating Sebastien Grosjean 6-2, 6-3 in the final.
``This week I felt real good, a lot better a lot sooner than I was even hoping,″ said the 32-year-old American, oldest among the seeded men in the Open.
Despite his early setback, Agassi finished last year ranked No. 2 behind Lleyton Hewitt. His best Grand Slam result was losing to Sampras in the U.S. Open final.
A victory here would be Agassi’s eighth in Grand Slam tournaments, putting him in a tie for sixth place with Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl, Ken Rosewall and Fred Perry.
Sampras, who leads the list with 14 Grand Slam titles, is skipping the Australian Open.
Hewitt, meanwhile, is trying to become the first Australian winner of the country’s major since Mark Edmondson in 1976. Last year, weakened by chicken pox, he lost in the first round.
``I feel sort of fine with that pressure, that expectation of sitting up there and being the No. 1 Australian. I don’t have too many problems with that,″ he said.
Last year’s runner-up Marat Safin, seeded third, hurt his right shoulder in Sydney but is expected to be in shape for the Open.
Defending champion Thomas Johansson is out with a knee injury. Also among the missing are No. 9-ranked Tim Henman and fellow Briton Greg Rusedski; No. 11 Tommy Haas; and Chile’s Marcelo Rios, runner-up in 1998.
Missing from the women’s draw are three-time winner Martina Hingis, 1999 runner-up Amelie Mauresmo, and No. 9 Jelena Dokic, who is boycotting after a fallout with tennis authorities in Australia.
But Capriati is back to seek a third consecutive Australian title.
Although she has not won a tournament since last year’s Australian Open, Capriati said, ``I’m defending again but I’ve done it before. ... I know what I can do.″