'Strange' injury worries Venus
Williams faces Sharapova in final but fitness a concern ahead of Australian Open
Venus Williams walked away from Victoria Park a winner last night but faced a long night of worry after tweaking a hamstring during her semi-final victory over Elena Dementieva in the semi-finals of the JB Group Classic.
Williams sought attention from the tournament physiotherapist at the end of the first set, after she had won it 6-3, and lay on her stomach for several minutes while he went to work on her left leg and lower back.
With the year's first grand slam - the Australian Open - starting on January 14, and coming after Williams had missed much of the 2007 season through injury, many in the packed stands held their breath and feared the worst. Not least among them was Williams' mother Oracene, who had her head in her hands while the treatment went on, only looking up once Williams had picked up her racquet and motioned she was ready to play on, much to the delight of the crowd.
'It was really strange but I was able to get through the match,' said the American world number eight. 'It was my hamstring but [the physiotherapist] thought it might be my back. I was out there on the court for only a few minutes for treatment and because it is cold I wanted to try to stay warm. I am just going to go and see him after this and continue from there.
'I'm playing against a very good player tomorrow so I'll definitely have to be at my best. I'll have to do everything I can do tonight.'
Organisers will be hoping for good news too - Williams' victory setting up their dream final after Maria Sharapova had earlier waltzed passed Anna Chakvetadze.
Williams was eager to deflect attention away from the problem but said she had not suffered from hamstring trouble previously and that she was 'not sure what it is right now'.
'The only thing I worry about long term is my [left] wrist but it has been good for a few months now,' she said. 'Everything else is like second. As long as my left wrist is feeling good I feel pretty good about tennis.'
After Williams returned to the court she appeared tentative at times against her Russian opponent but not overly hampered as she went on to complete the victory, 6-3, 6-3. So perhaps the gods will shine on the tournament in time for today's final.
Their good graces would come a day too late for Chakvetadze, though, as she looked lethargic against Sharapova - and in desperate need of divine intervention.
Sharapova, the Russian world number five, shrugged off some early jitters before dispatching her sixth-ranked compatriot 6-4, 6-3 in not much more than an hour to move into the final of the exhibition event for the second consecutive year - much to the delight of Victoria Park's capacity crowd. Last year she lost to Kim Clijsters, and this year she meets the woman who, in 2007, bundled her out of Wimbledon in the fourth round. But Sharapova was having none of any talk of revenge.
'Just to have another match is the thing,' said the Russian. 'To have a third one here is a bonus. I don't care who I play - I'm just looking forward to playing.'
Williams went on to win Wimbledon against all the odds last season - at 23 she was the highest seed ever to win the grand slam event - and organisers will wake up today hoping for the same kind of luck.