Back at a Grand Slams after her U.S. Open tirade, Williams vows to be herself

The Associated Press ~ staff The News
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MELBOURNE, Australia - A record fine and threat of suspension aren't going to stop Serena Williams from being anything other than, well, Serena Williams.
"That hasn't crossed my mind at all. ... If I yell too much, it would be a problem," she said. "I feel like I can always be myself. ... I'll say, 'C'mon.' I'll get frustrated. I'll still be human. I'll still make mistakes. I'll still learn from them."
Williams returned to Grand Slam play Tuesday for the first time since her tirade against the line judge who called her for a foot fault during her U.S. Open semifinal loss to Kim Clijsters in September.
And while the 11-time major winner did seem less effusive than usual on court, Williams didn't pull any punches after her 6-2, 6-1 win over 18-year-old Urszula Radwanska about what she thought of the punishment.
"I don't know whoever got fined like that. People said worse, done worse," she said, "I think it was a bit much."
Williams was fined US$82,500 and warned she could be suspended from the U.S. Open for another "major offence" at any Grand Slam event in the next two years. Williams said she doubts whether one of the top men would have drawn such a fine.
"In tennis I think we've been able to do really well with having fought so hard to get equal prize money," said Williams, who last year became the first woman to surpass $6 million in prize money in a season. "I think that's really good," she said. "But I think we still sort of, say, live in a man's world. Some incidents can bring you back to life and back into reality."
Williams acknowledges that "what I did wasn't right, but I turned that around. She set up a charity auction with the aim of raising $92,000 for "ladies, women ... schools in Africa ... Haiti." Sister Venus Williams contributed a memorabilia item for the sale.
Venus, seeded sixth, opened with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Lucie Safarova. Also advancing were No. 8 Jelena Jankovic, No. 11 Marion Bartoli, No. 13 Sam Stosur and No. 19 Nadia Petrova. Melanie Oudin, the 18-year-old American who made a surprising run to last year's U.S. Open quarter-finals, lost 2-6, 7-5, 7-5 to Alla Kudryavtseva of Russia.
Barbora Zahlavova Strycova of the Czech Republic needed 4 hours, 19 minutes to beat Regina Kulikova of Russia 7-6 (5), 6-7 (10), 6-3 in what the WTA said was the longest women's singles match at a Grand Slam.
Serena's under-control manner against Radwanska had more to do with her wanting to keep a record intact: She's never lost in the first round of a major.
In the 40 Grand Slam events since her debut in tennis' biggest tournaments, her worst performance remains her first: a second-round exit at the 1998 Australian Open.
Roger Federer hadn't dropped a set in the opening round of a major for six years and was on track to continue that run when he was a break up against Igor Andreev, whose girlfriend Maria Kirilenko ousted 2008 champion Maria Sharapova on the opening day at Melbourne Park.
Andreev rallied, breaking the 15-time Grand Slam winner twice to take the first set. The Russian had three set points on serve to take a 2-1 lead, but each time he was undone by a forehand error and Federer withstood the challenge - breaking to force a tiebreaker and then dominating the rest of the way in his 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (2), 6-0 first-round win.
"I really had to adjust my game to beat him," Federer said. "I think I definitely got lucky to get out of that one. It was a fortunate third set. I prefer easier matches, but this worked as well."
No. 3 Novak Djokovic, one of the two men who've beaten Federer at Melbourne Park since 2005, struggled in the first set before beating Spain's Daniel Gimeno-Traver 7-5, 6-3, 6-2 in a night match.
"I was struggling in the first set. That's no secret," Djokovic said after his first competitive match of the season. "In the end I picked it up, and I was really happy overall with how I handled things."
Advancing were: sixth-seeded Nikolay Davydenko, No. 9 Fernando Verdasco - who lost a five-set semifinal to Nadal at last year's Australian Open - No. 10 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, No. 12 Gael Monfils, No. 19 Stanislas Wawrinka and No. 21 Tomas Berdych.
No. 20 Mikhail Youzhny took four hours 53 minutes in a night match to oust Richard Gasquet 6-7 (9), 4-6, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (4), 6-4. Organizers scheduled 88 matches Tuesday to make some inroads into the backlog caused by suspensions on the rainy opening day.
Nadal, the defending champion, plays Lukas Lacko at Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday. Del Potro faces James Blake, and No. 5 Andy Murray and No. 7 Andy Roddick also are in action.
Serena and Venus Williams will team in doubles Wednesday while the other half of the women's singles draw starts the second round.
No. 2 Dinara Safina, the 2009 runner-up, and third-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova have day matches before their Russian compatriot, Olympic gold medallist Elena Dementieva, faces one of the toughest challenges of the first week - a second-round match against Justine Henin.
Henin, a seven-time Grand Slam winner Henin coming back from 20 months in retirement, is unranked and playing on a wild card in her first major since the 2008 Australian Open.
Djokovic hasn't returned to the final of a major since his victory in Australia in 2008. Federer and Rafael Nadal split the six majors between then and the U.S. Open final, when Juan Martin del Petro beat Federer in the final to snap the No. 1-No. 2 domination again.
Djokovic insists he's ready for this tournament. That wasn't the case last year when he was coming back as defending champion.
"It was really difficult to cope with the pressure and expectations that I had," he said. "It was a different feel."


Organizations: U.S. Open, Australian Open

Geographic location: Australia, Melbourne Park, Africa Haiti Russia Czech Republic Spain

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