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Title defense starts with win for Serena
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — The difference in 12 months was easy to see.
Serena Williams, wearing fuchsia bicycle shorts and a headband, a short white dress and dangling, chandelier-inspired earrings, found her form quickly and beat Jarmila Gajdosova 6-3, 6-3 today (last night EST) in the first match of the Australian Open.
Last year, Williams was unseeded, ranked 81st and coming off one of her worst losses on tour — in a Tier 4 event at Hobart — yet she beat six seeded players en route to the title at Melbourne Park. It was her eighth and least expected Grand Slam win.
Expectations — hers and the pundits — are much higher this season.
“It’s obviously a lot different — I’m not No. 81 any more. And the court’s different — it’s a different color,” Williams told the crowd after her 62-minute match at Rod Laver Arena against wild card entry Gajdosova, a Slovak who is representing Australia.
“I thought about last year, you know, my last match on that court I was able to win it — and that’s all I thought about. I didn’t think about holding up the trophy. I just got right back into the swing of things and thought, ‘I have to stay focused.’ ”
Top-seeded Justine Henin, in her first match at Melbourne Park since retiring from the 2006 final against Amelie Mauresmo, won the last six games to beat Aiko Nakamura 6-2, 6-2 for her 29th consecutive win.
Third-seeded Jelena Jankovic saved three match points and needed 3 hours, 9 minutes to edge Austria’s Tamira Paszek 2-6, 6-2, 12-10 at Vodafone Arena. The deciding set was four minutes shy of two hours, including 15 breaks of serve and an injury timeout for each player.
Henin was going through a divorce and skipped the last Australian Open, then came back to win the French and U.S. Opens and the season-ending championship. Her only loss in six months was to Marion Bartoli in the Wimbledon semis.
She won the Sydney International title Friday.
The 31-year-old Davenport has won three titles and is 18-1 since returning to the tour after the birth of her son, Jagger, in June.
But her low ranking, No. 52, meant the winner of 54 tour titles was unseeded for the draw and put her on a collision course with last year’s runner-up, Maria Sharapova, in the second round.
At her pretournament press conference, the seventh-seeded Williams said she had not even looked at whom she was playing first because she was focused on herself.
At 3-0 in the first set, the attitude seemed to be vindicated.
By Tom Fitton
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