| Venus and Serena are expected to play in Melbourne despite being absent from the circuit since July
Melbourne: Organisers are confident Serena and Venus Williams will play in January’s Australian Tennis Open despite the recent shooting death of their sister.
Neither reigning Australian Open champion Serena nor elder sister and beaten 2003 finalist Venus has played competitively since meeting in the Wimbledon final on July 5.
Venus has pulled out of a tournament in Germany next week citing an abdominal injury, while Serena has been recovering from knee surgery.
Yetunde Price was gunned down on September 14 in the Los Angeles suburb of Compton, not far from where her two youngest sisters first played the game that would rocket them to international fame.
“I’ve quietly sounded out the areas where there might have been some delicacy and that’s looking very good,” Australian Open chief executive Paul McNamee said at Wednesday’s 2004 tournament launch.
“I’m very, very hopeful about Serena and Venus. I’ve no doubt they are intending to come, I’m fairly confident of that, even though they have been through something very traumatic.”
McNamee is also negotiating with one-time Australian citizen Jelena Dokic, who has not played at the Australian Open since 2001.
After drawing second-seeded American Lindsay Davenport in the first round two years ago, her father Damir accused officials of rigging the draw against her. Dokic, 21, now represents Serbia and Montenegro, rather than Australia.
“On Jelena, we’re still very hopeful that she will play,” said McNamee.
Officials are expected to learn next month that the tournament will be moved back in the calendar from its traditional slot in late January, although the dates for the 2004 and 2005 Opens cannot be changed.
A move to March cannot be made until 2007, while the 2006 Open could only be pushed back one week so as not to clash with the Turin Winter Olympics.
Tennis Australia president Geoff Pollard announced that prize-money for the 2004 Open had increased by 4.5 per cent to $13 million, with the men’s and women’s singles champions both picking up cheques for $820,000.