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Tennis: Players to watch

A look at 10 players to keep an eye on at the Australian Open:

By SHARON GINN

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 13, 2002


A look at 10 players to keep an eye on at the Australian Open:

Women

JENNIFER CAPRIATI: The No. 1 seed will defend her first Grand Slam title, and even if she's the same Jennifer of last season, the expectations won't be. Staying at the top is harder than reaching it, even considering what Capriati's been through to get there. Her game faded late in the season, and a loss to Alexandra Stevenson two weeks ago wasn't a promising start.

VENUS WILLIAMS: Winner of four of the past six Grand Slam tournaments, she historically hasn't played well at the Australian. But she said she's tired of that and arrived in Australia two weeks early. She hasn't played a tournament since winning the U.S. Open four months ago, but she has to be considered the favorite. She could face sister Serena, who is nursing an ankle injury, in the semifinals.

MARTINA HINGIS: She lacked confidence at the end of last season and seemed resigned to losing the No. 1 ranking. But she typically is at her best at the Australian, which she won in 1999 for her most recent Grand Slam title. She won the final at Sydney on Saturday, her first WTA Tour title in 11 months. But if the seedings play out, she would have to beat both Williamses and Capriati to win.

KIM CLIJSTERS: Lleyton Hewitt's Belgian girlfriend will be a favorite of the Aussies. Look for her to build on last year's success. With Lindsay Davenport out with injury, she's a good bet to get to a Slam semifinal for the second time.

MEGHANN SHAUGHNESSEY: She's a dark horse, but the 10th-seeded American is in great shape and has started the year strong. In Sydney, she got past Serena Williams (who retired from the match after turning her ankle) in the semis, but lost to Hingis in straight sets.

Men

LLEYTON HEWITT: His outstanding play at the end of last season, including a whipping of Pete Sampras in the U.S. Open final, earned the Aussie the No. 1 ranking and top seed at the Open. He'll be the fan favorite, but a bout with chicken pox and a brutal draw make it unlikely he'll win a second straight Slam.

ANDRE AGASSI: The two-time defending champion, seeded third, is creating as much buzz as Hewitt. How many Slams does he have left? And will publicity-shy wife Steffi Graf and their new baby make an appearance in the players' box?

TIM HENMAN: A Brit who usually gets press for advancing into the late rounds of Wimbledon, the No. 6 seed could make a nice run in Australia. He won a tuneup in Adelaide last week with a much-improved serve, and will enjoy a favorable draw.

YEVGENY KAFELNIKOV: The 10-year pro always seems to play well in Australia, winning in 1999 and losing to Agassi in the 2000 final. He's made the quarterfinals five straight years and has earned his No. 4 seed.

PETE SAMPRAS: He has been training hard in Australia with new coach Tom Gullickson since late December, and beat Agassi last week to win the eight-man tuneup Kooyong Classic. Though he's won twice at Australia, hardly anyone thinks of him as a favorite.

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