Williams sisters do double duty in Melbourne

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Now, Ferrer may have his best shot.

He’s coming off a career-best 2012 season in which he won seven titles _ more than any of the Big Four. And countryman Nadal is absent from this year’s Australian Open because of injury and illness.

After dismantling Kei Nishikori of Japan 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 on Sunday to reach the quarterfinals here for the third straight year, Ferrer was asked if he believes this is his year to finally raise a trophy.

“I don’t know,” Ferrer said. “Is very difficult to win a Grand Slam because there are the top four. In this moment, the last three or four years, they are better than the other players.”

But does he feel he’s closing the gap?

“No, no. I think the top four, they are better,” he insisted.

“You have to play your best or more than best to beat these guys,” he said. “Hopefully, I can beat them in the Grand Slams sometime.”

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HELPING A FRIEND: Tennis greats are teaming up for a charity auction to raise money for retired player Andrew Florent, who was recently diagnosed with cancer.

Among the items being auctioned are a private tennis lesson with Jim Courier and a doubles match against Pat Rafter and Goran Ivanisevic, Tennis Australia said in a statement.

Fans can bid for two seats at the so-called Legends Lunch on the Saturday of the women’s final, which will be attended by Rod Laver and Andre Agassi.

Agassi, an eight-time Grand Slam winner who won his last major title at Melbourne Park in 2003, will also be taking part in the men’s pre-final ceremony Sunday, tournament organizers said.

Among other items on the block are a pair of tickets to both the men’s and women’s final as well as a photo opportunity beside the men’s winner Sunday.

The 42-year-old Florent, the 1988 runner-up at the Australian Open junior singles tournament, turned pro in 1990 and became a doubles specialist who achieved a career high ranking of 13th in 2001.

The statement described him as “one of the most popular players on the tour.”

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