| Carlos Moya of Spain hits a backhand volley while practising in Melbourne on Sunday. Moya, who is seeded number five, faces Dick Norman of Belgium in the first round. (AFP)
Melbourne: For Serena Williams and Andre Agassi, simply starting the Australian Open is an advance from last year.
Both suffered injuries on the eve of the 2002 Open. That wiped out any chance of Agassi winning three Australian Opens in a row and, as it turned out, of Serena winning all four Grand Slam tournaments in one year.
After twisting her right ankle chasing a drop shot in a warm-up tournament in Sydney, Serena became the dominant player on the women’s Tour.
She lost only one set — to Jennifer Capriati — on way to winning the French and US Opens and Wimbledon.
Starting Monday, she’ll be trying for a ‘Serena Slam’ which would make her 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 to have won all four in one calendar year.
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 well could mean more victories against elder sister Venus, her victim in three Grand Slam finals last year. If they meet here, it also would be in the final since Venus, who has won four Grand Slam tournaments, is seeded second.
Neither sister has reached an Australian Open final. Serena’s best was reaching the quarter finals in 2001. Venus reached the semi-finals that same year.
After playing well in the US’ victory in the Hopman Cup a week earlier, Serena skipped the Sydney tournament.
In contrast, Agassi won the Australian Open after winning at Kooyong in 2000 and 2001, and he won at Kooyong again Saturday, beating Sebastien Grosjean.
In good shape
“This week I felt real good, a lot better a lot sooner than I was even hoping,” said the 32-year-old, oldest among the seeded men players in the Open.
Agassi finished 2002 ranked No. 2 behind Lleyton Hewitt. His best Grand Slam result was losing to Pete Sampras again in the US 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 this Australian Open.
Hewitt, meanwhile, is trying to become the first Australian winner at the home tournament 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 Wednesday at Sydney, but is expected to be back in shape for the Open.
Big names missing
Defending champion Thomas Johansson is out with a knee injury. Also among the missing are No. 9 Tim Henman, No. 11 Tommy Haas and 1998 runner-up Marcelo Rios.
Women absentees include 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 title.
On the men’s side, Lee Hyung-Taik became the first South Korean winner in ATP Tour history, upsetting the Australian Open fourth seed Juan Carlos Ferrero in Sydney.
He joins an Asian challenge that also includes Thai Paradorn Srichaphan, seeded 11th after a year in which he won two titles and moved up 110 places in the rankings to No. 16. (AP)