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Saturday December 29, 2012

Serena looks to continue domination

BRISBANE: American superstar Serena Williams has played down concerns about recent foot surgery as she looks to continue her dominance of the women’s game at next week’s Brisbane International.

The opening tournament of the Australian summer features eight of the world’s top 10 women, with reigning US Open champion Andy Murray headlining the men’s draw.

The 31-year-old Williams won seven titles in 2012, including Wimbledon, the US Open, the WTA Championship and the Olympics, and finished the year ranked number three in the world.

She goes into tomorrow’s Brisbane International as the firm favourite despite the presence of the two women ranked above her, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova.

Williams arrived in Brisbane on Friday and immediately played down any worries over the minor foot surgery which forced her to withdraw from an exhibition match in Thailand this week.

“It feels great to be back in Brisbane,” Williams said. “The foot is better. It is really good – it’s come through fine.”

Sharapova is also battling injury worries and was forced to pull out of an exhibition in South Korea this week with neck pain.

But tournament director Cameron Pearson said he was confident that Sharapova, who features heavily in tournament advertising, would play, despite the glamorous Russian withdrawing from Brisbane at the last minute in 2012.

“We are certainly looking forward to seeing her arrive,” Pearson said. “But her health is the most important thing so we want to see her fit enough to play.”

With all the attention on Williams and Sharapova, world No. 1 Azarenka has almost been forgotten despite her impressive record in Australia.

The Belarusian is the reigning Australian Open champion and won her maiden WTA title in Brisbane in 2009.

Local favourite Samantha Stosur will be hoping to improve on her previous Brisbane efforts, where she has failed to live up to the expectations of her home town fans, never getting past the second round in three attempts.

The high quality field also includes former world number one Caroline Wozniacki, 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and rising Italian star Sara Errani.

The strong women’s draw has pushed the men’s tournament into the background, with world number three and defending champion Murray the only top 10 player in the field. — AFP

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