Injuries notwithstanding, Australian Open set to start

Associated Press

Melbourne, January 16:

Andy Roddick’s ankle seems OK. Andre Agassi isn’t expecting his wonky hip to get any worse. And top-ranked Lindsay Davenport thinks she’s almost over bronchitis that restricted her tuneup for the Australian Open. Agassi said the small tear in a tendon in his right hip didn’t trouble him too much while he recovered from Saturday’s two-hour workout against Tim Henman and he’s a “100 per cent starter” for the season’s first major.

No 1-ranked Roger Federer is starting the defence of his Australian title on a roll of 21 consecutive match wins and with 14 consecutive wins in finals. After winning 11 titles in 2004, including three Grand Slams, and starting this season with wins at Qatar and the Kooyong Classic, Federer is one of the hottest favourites here since the tournament began in 1904.

The 23-year-old Swiss star is in the same section of the draw as four-time winner Agassi, meaning the pair could meet in quarters. Having top-ranked Davenport in the women’s draw will restore some order after Belgians Justin Henin and Kim Clijsters — both of last year’s finalists — and Jennifer Capriati, the back-to-back champion in 2001 and 2002, withdrew because of lingering injuries. Serena and Venus Williams are back in a Top 10 that contains five Russians and, in a wide open draw, are strong chances of adding to their major titles.

Second-ranked Amelie Mauresmo of France has a night match on Monday against Samantha Stosur of Australia, who reached back-to-back finals in the last two weeks.

Federer has a tricky opener on Monday against French Fabrice Santoro, one of the few men on tour who’ve beaten him twice on hard courts. Agassi will follow Federer on Rod Laver Arena against German qualifier Dieter Kindlmann. Agassi hurt the hip on Thursday and had to retire from an exhibition match against Roddick, putting his status in doubt for the Australian Open. After losing to Henman on Saturday, he still wasn’t a certainty, but changed his mind on Sunday. Roddick and third-ranked Lleyton Hewitt are in the bottom half of the draw and have to wait until Tuesday to get their Open campaigns underway.