AUSTRALIAN OPEN

Williams sisters steam on as Dementieva digs deep

Both Williams sisters and France's Amélie Mauresmo won their opening match in Melbourne without conceding a single set. Elena Dementieva, who last week won the Sydney Open, had a harder time against Germany's Kristina Barrois.

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FRANCE 24 with AFP - Fourth seed Elena Dementieva feared her Australian Open dream was evaporating in the Melbourne Park heat before she ground out a first-round win over Germany's Kristina Barrois Tuesday.

The in-form Russian entered the season-opening Grand Slam regarded as a dark horse capable of adding the Australian title to the Olympic Gold medal she won at last year's Beijing Olympics.

But she found herself struggling to extend a winning run that has already delivered two titles this year as the Melbourne heat and Barrois' aggression threatened to crash her Grand Slam campaign at the first hurdle.

Playing on the same court where she tumbled from the tournament's opening round in 2006, the 27-year-old feared history was set to repeat against the unseeded German.

"I was thinking 'Oh, no, it's going to happen again'," she said.

"I think she played really well. She had nothing to lose and was really going for the shot, making some winners and great serve. It was a really tough match to play.

 

Sixth seed Venus Williams barely broke stride as she sauntered through the Australian Open first round with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Germany's Angelique Kerber Monday.

The American disposed of Kerber with clinical efficiency, doing just enough to crush a mid-match challenge from the world number 100 without wasting energy that may be needed later in her quest for a maiden Australian title.

The 28-year-old extended the nine-match winning streak that ended her 2008 season, saying she felt on top of her game.

"I'm feeling the best that I can and I'm glad to be in the second round," she said.

Venus looked in no mood to hang around against Herber as she fired down three aces to win the first game, shooting to a 5-0 lead within 20 minutes.

Kerber then mustered some resistance to the seven-time Grand Slam champion's onslaught, breaking Williams serve as she won three consecutive games to add some respectibility to the first set scoreline.

The German came out for the second set prepared to slug it out with Williams on the baseline and was rewarded with another service break in the fourth game to take a 3-1 lead.

But the American immediately broke back and mixed up her power hitting with delicate chips and lobs, leaving Kerber with no answers for the final five games of the match.

Venus has said 2009 is the year she wants to snatch back the top ranking she first held in 2002 and a successful Australian Open campaign would send an ominous warning to her rivals.

Melbourne Park has not been a happy hunting ground for her, with a loss in the 2003 final to sister Serena her best effort so far.

"I'm just happy to survive."

The 27-year-old came from behind to post a 7-6 (7/4), 2-6, 6-1 win and take her unbeaten run to 11 matches, but admitted she will need time to recover from the draining encounter.

"For me it's all about getting some recovery and being ready to play," she said.

"I've got a lot of matches and I've got my confidence. I feel like it was a good preparation so far, so it's just a matter of how fresh I can be for the rest of the tournament."

Even though she did not play her best, Dementieva believed such a tough opening hit-out was good preparation for a tilt at a maiden Grand Slam.

"That really gives you a lot of confidence for the Grand Slam," she said. "It's just a matter of the recovery.

The Russian said that the tournament was wide open in the absence of injured defending champion Maria Sharapova and recently retired Justine Henin and Kin Clijsters.

"It's very interesting for me as a player to realize that everyone has a chance to win this Grand Slam and to get to the number one," she said.

Dementieva made a slow start, conceding two early service breaks to trail Barrois 4-1 after 27 minutes.

She was left flat-footed as Barrois dominated the early exchanges with her powerful serve, the German blasting down five aces to Dementieva's one as the score went to 5-2.

But Barrois blew the chance to serve out the set at 5-3 and Dementieva bounced back to a take a 6-5 lead.

She still could not shake off the tenacious German and the first set went to a tie break that Dementieva won 7-4 after a draining 65 minutes on court.

The second set followed a similar pattern to the first as Barrois snatched two breaks from a struggling Dementieva.

The German did not repeat her earlier choke serving for the set at 5-2, taking the match to a decider.

Dementieva appeared refreshed after a 10 minute break between sets allowed under the tournament's extreme heat rules, coming out firing to race to a 5-0 lead then wrapping up the set after 29 minutes.

Former champion Serena Williams got her campaign for a 10th Grand Slam title underway with an easy 6-3, 6-2 rout of China's Meng Yuan to make the Australian Open second round on Tuesday.

Meng battled bravely in the first set but was blasted off court by the American in the second, with Williams wrapping up the match in 75 minutes in temperatures pushing 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).

Seeded two, Williams agreed the conditions were difficult but said she was able to handle the heat.

"It was more of a dry heat," she said.

"There wasn't so much humidity out there, (the dry heat) is actually better than the humidity.

"But it was definitely extreme conditions -- I think it was extreme conditions today."

An upbeat Williams joked that her new leaner figure may actually be more of a hindrance than a help.

"I mean, maybe with the fat I would be able to, like, absorb more of the heat," she said.

The world number two was simply too big and too powerful for her Chinese opponent and never looked in danger of being upset, despite making 31 unforced errors throughout the two sets.

She refused to blame the high error rate on the conditions, saying the only one at fault was herself.

"My technique was a lot of the factor -- definitely high unforced errors for me now," she said, adding that she had also played some quality tennis.

"I think I hit some pretty solid shots, sometimes I even went for some shots just to try something different."

Williams broke Meng once in the first set and twice in the second in an impressive opening round performance.

Meng had her chances and twice had break points in the first set, but Williams was able to save them both with her booming first serve.

The American then broke Meng's first two service games in the second set and quickly opened up a 4-0 lead.

Meng hung on and held her next two serves but Williams strolled to an inevitable victory.

Williams has won the Australian Open three times, in 2003, 2005 and 2007, but said that although she was superstitious, she didn't believe in the odd-years theory which would mean she was due for a fourth title this year.

"I am superstitious, but is there anything to the odd theory?" she asked.

"No. One year I wasn't able to come back and defend my title, one year I went crazy.

"A couple years I went completely crazy, so hopefully I'll be able to stay focused this year.

Asked how she would define going "completely crazy", she replied: "Just making errors for no reason, acting up out there. I don't know. Playing like a loser, I guess."

 

Former champion Amelie Mauresmo showed no signs of a recent leg injury as she beat Belarusian Olga Govortsova 6-4, 6-3 in the first round of the Australian Open on Tuesday.

The Frenchwoman was forced to withdraw from the recent Brisbane International when she strained her right thigh during a semi-final against Marion Bartoli.

Despite playing with her thigh heavily strapped, Mauresmo moved freely during the 85-minute victory over Govortsova.

She broke Govortsova twice in the first set and three times in the second in a confident first round display.

Mauresmo, 29, has always played well at the Australian Open and won the title in 2006.

She said she was happy with her efforts against Govortsova and that she was feeling strong at the start of her 43rd Grand Slam tournament.

"I was physically good. That was a concern for me in the last few days," she said.

"It's been going well today on the court on that part.

"I was very comfortable on the leg today. Throughout the last couple of days I could feel that it was really good, that I could move around just the way I wanted. That's a good satisfaction."

As she reaches the twilight of her career Mauresmo, the first French player to become world number one, said she was concentrating on the big tournaments and not worrying so much about her ranking.

"I am aware that you have to play a lot to be able to see your ranking go up," she said.

"It's not really the goal for this year. The goal is to focus on the big events -- of course the Grand Slams -- but also to try to win a tournament again, which I haven't done for a couple years.

"If it (ranking) goes up, that's great. That's very good. It shows that I'm playing good, that I'm consistent.

"But I'm really looking at some level of play more than ranking."

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