Bring it on - Classic title lifts Venus' Open outlook

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 January, 2008, 12:00am

Williams shrugs off mystery ailment to down Sharapova

After a little stretch of her left leg, Venus Williams walked out on to the Victoria Park centre court grinning. The world number eight knew the capacity crowd had become concerned she might be carrying an injury.

Some 80 minutes later that grin had burst into a bright beaming smile after the American had dispensed with Maria Sharapova, 6-4, 6-3, in the final of the JB Group Classic and had blown away any lingering doubts about the hamstring strain she had suffered in the semi-final the night before.

'It was much better today,' she said. 'I really got a ton of treatment last night and some this morning so I felt a lot better.' When pressed on what exactly had ailed her during her semi-final win over Elena Dementieva, Williams remained unsure - but happy that it seemed to have passed.

'I think it was a little of everything and that's sports,' she said. 'It's kind of strange when you don't know exactly what it is or why it's doing that. It's a little strange but I've overcome it and feel good.

'I feel much better. I think every athlete has a certain tolerance for pain. I can't say that I am super hot but I felt good enough for the match.'

She was showing no ill effects as she rode a booming serve to take the first set - admittedly aided by a Sharapova mistake that gifted her the crucial break in the set's ninth game.

The clash was highlighted by some ferocious baseline rallies - both women giving as good as they got. Williams seemed to amp up the pressure as the second set wore on and Sharapova was left to rue again her own folly, a double fault giving the American her first break, and a wild forehand doing the same a little later.

The tournament victory was Williams' third in seven visits to the SAR and she left brimming with confidence heading into the Australian Open.

And at 10-1 with the bookmakers, she just might be a decent bet.

'I hadn't played in ages,' Williams said. 'I had been playing well in practices at home but obviously that was different. It's about that competition thing and fighting for every point.

'So being out there and being able to have that competition makes a huge difference. I'll rest a while and go into the Australian Open feeling strong and fit and if I don't play well it will just be my fault.'

She was also pleased with the progress made with her troublesome left wrist - one of the injuries that plagued her 2007 season.

'I actually fell on it on my first practice here,' she said. 'I hadn't been wrapping it but after that I had to and that was very annoying. Today, though, it felt 100 per cent - so no more falling for me.'

For world number five Sharapova it was another case of so close and yet so far - it's the third time she has finished runner-up in five visits - but she was off to the Australian Open with her head held high.

'What can you say about Venus?' she said. 'She's one of the few players in the world who can fly in 24 hours before and win a tournament.

'When I did get chances on the second serve I made a few sloppy errors. Other than that I did a good job on my serve. It's good to get a few matches in. With a week of training in Australia, I think I'll be okay.'