MELBOURNE, Australia -- Venus Williams looked rejuvenated
from a six-month layoff. And second-seeded Kim Clijsters seemed unaffected by the ankle injury she suffered two weeks ago.
Williams returned at the Australian Open and needed less than an
hour to beat American teenager Ashley Harkleroad 6-2, 6-1 on
Tuesday in a first-round match.
"It's been a long, long time," she said.
Clijsters advanced by overpowering Marlene Weingartner of Germany 6-3, 6-2.
Weingartner knocked off defending champion Jennifer Capriati in her
first round last year while advancing to the fourth round.
Clijsters often had the German off-balance or lunging for
stinging shots into the corners and finished off the match in an
hour with a forehand crosscourt that kissed the line.
"I didn't really have any problems with the ankle and that's
the most important thing," she said.
"For a couple of days I didn't even think I was going to be
coming here as a player. So I am very pleased with the way I
went out there."
While Clijsters was clearly relieved, the third-seeded Williams was very focused on Melbourne Park's
center court. She showed no rust -- and no signs of the abdominal
injury that sidelined her -- while serving at speeds up to 119 mph.
"Afterward, it was really just a breath of fresh air: 'Oh yes,
I'm back now. I'm doing good,'" Williams said.
And competitors better beware.
"I feel like definitely I'm still on the rise," she said.
Williams' only slips were a twisted ankle in the fourth game and
one dropped service game, in the fifth game of the second set.
"I was going for my swing volley and twisted my right ankle,"
she said. "I'll monitor it, see how it goes -- I'm not expecting
it'll cause any problems."
"I wanted to do well, do what my coach said -- which is my mom,
so I had to," said Williams.
Her mother, Oracene Price, exchanged text messages with Serena
during the match.
Her last match was a loss in the Wimbledon final last July to
her sister Serena, who also beat her in the Australian Open final.
"It's just not the same. We're always together -- it's like a
piece of the link is missing," Williams said of Serena. "I'm
alone in the room. Phone's not ringing, because her phone's always
ringing non-stop. I miss her. No doubles."
Williams won 75 percent of her
points on her first serve. She didn't waste any time, between
points or on them, producing 27 winners against Harkleroad, ranked
No. 51 last season.
Williams closed in 51 minutes, approaching the net and opting
not to jump for Harkleroad's desperate lob on match point. She
smiled as she watched it drop behind the baseline.
Williams was given the No. 3 seeding here, despite her ranking
dropping to No. 11 at the end of last season. The WTA Tour made the
recommendation based on Williams' "protected ranking."
"I'm really grateful, I suppose, for the seeding ... I think
it's pretty consistent with the WTA rules," she said.
In addition to their injuries, the Williams sisters have also had to deal with the
death of their sister Yetunde Price, who was shot dead in a Los
Angeles suburb last September. Police detained one suspect shortly after Price's death; another was arrested last week.
In other women's matches, ninth-seeded American Chanda Rubin had a 6-3, 4-6,
6-3 win over Sweden's Asa Svensson and moved into a second-round
match against Denisa Chladkova of the Czech Republic, a 6-4, 6-2
winner over Stephanie Foretz of France.
Twelveth-seeded Paulo Suarez, winner at a
warmup event in Canberra last week, beat fellow Argentine Gisela
Dulko 6-2, 6-2 and Marion Bartoli of France had a 6-3, 6-1 win over
American Alexandra Stevenson, who reached the 1999 Wimbledon
semifinals as a qualifier but hasn't gone beyond the second round
at 18 Grand Slam tournaments since.
Three Russians advanced, with sixth-seeded Anastasia Myskina
beating Sofia Arvidsson of Sweden 6-2, 7-5, 21st-seeded Lina
Krasnoroutskaya beating Karolina Sprem of Croatia 6-3, 6-4 and
Elena Likhovtseva winning 12 of the last 14 games in a 3-6, 6-1,
6-1 defeat Madagaskar's Dally Randriantefy.
Information from The Associated Press and Reuters were used in this report.