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Anybody’s title, sans Serena

New York: Without Serena Williams, the US Open women’s title suddenly seems up for grabs. Her sister Venus can look forward to the possibility of facing someone else in a Grand Slam final.

Lindsay Davenport or Jennifer Capriati could add to their collections of major titles. Kim Clijsters just might claim her first.

Serena’s withdrawal on Friday because of left knee surgery makes for a distinctly different tournament. And with Pete Sampras all but retired, the Open will be without either defending champion for the first time since 1971 when action starts on August 25.

“It’s just much more wide open without Serena in the field,” Davenport said on Saturday at the Carlsbad meet in California. “It changes a lot. She would be the clear favourite of any Slam that we enter.”

Now there’s an understatement. The world No. 1, Serena has won five of the past six majors, a streak that began at the 2002 French Open and extended to Wimbledon last month.

Each time, she beat Venus in the final. The lone blip: a three-set loss to eventual champion Justine Henin-Hardenne in the French Open semi-final two months ago.

That run is all the more impressive given that Serena was playing on a suspect knee for about a year. Originally diagnosed as tendinitis, it forced her to pull out of the tournament in Scottsdale late February. She withdrew from three California tournaments in the past three weeks because of the knee problem and, after the operation, is expected to be out up to two months.

Despite never having won a Grand Slam yet, Clijsters should surpass Serena in the WTA rankings by the Open. In fact, the Belgian could do it as soon as August 11. Clijsters has a Tour-high five titles this season and has been a semi-finalist at all of her 12 tournaments in 2003.

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