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Friday, January 30, 2009

Williams Sisters Win Third Australian Open

For the second year in a row a sister act has won the Australian Open doubles title, with Venus and Serena Williams producing another powerful display to defeat Daniela Hantuchova and Ai Sugiyama in Friday's final, 63 63. The win represents the sisters' eighth Grand Slam title overall and their third triumph at Melbourne Park; this year's No.10 seeds also lifted the trophy in 2001 and 2003.

Cool, calm and collected under the closed roof of the Rod Laver Arena, ninth-seeded Hantuchova and Sugiyama made the better start, their tactic of both standing back on Venus's serve drawing errors from the incoming volleyer. But after Hantuchova produced some fine angles to consolidate her team's early break at 2-0, the Williamses stepped things up a gear, breaking Sugiyama with clever crossover play to level at 2-2.

The Japanese veteran's serve was again put under pressure by heavy returning at 3-4, and the 33-year-old was broken to give the Americans a chance to serve for the set. That done, they again broke Sugiyama for 2-1 in the second, but it would prove to be the first of five consecutive service breaks, which kept proceedings level until 3-3 but also saw Sugiyama sacrifice her serve yet again for 3-4. Two games later Hantuchova was left to keep her team in the match, but by this time the hard-fought contest had acquired an air of inevitability, and the sisters gave away just one point in the final game.

"We played a great team today, they were very tough," said Venus, adding with a chuckle, "I'd like to thank for Serena for being the best partner - I wouldn't play with anyone else." Speaking for her team, Hantuchova congratulated the champions and thanked her own partner, Sugiyama, with whom she was also runner-up at Roland Garros in 2006. "It's a big honor for me to play with someone like you," the 25-year-old Slovak said. "You're not only a fantastic player but one of my best friends."

Indeed, with their complementary styles and communication skills, Hantuchova and Sugiyama, who were a regular fixture on the Tour from 2005 until early 2007, reunited seamlessly during this month's Australian swing. Notably, they beat world No.1s Cara Black and Liezel Huber twice, in the quarters at Brisbane and again in a three-hour epic at the same stage in Melbourne, saving seven match points in the process.

If last year's Australian Open title run by Alona and Kateryna Bondarenko was a surprise, this year's event produced even more shocks, for none of the Top 8 seeds reached the quarters. The Williams sisters opened their section of the draw by defeating fifth seeded Samantha Stosur and Rennae Stubbs in the third round. Ominously, they say they plan to start playing together more often, too: "If we keep playing, I think we can keep winning more titles," said Venus. "We're going to do our best to play the other Slams this year."

After today's final, Sugiyama is projected to rise to No.3 in the doubles rankings, while Hantuchova and both Williams sisters are expected to enter the Top 20.

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