Williams sisters, Clijsters lead US Open field

WHITE PLAINS: Defending champion Serena Williams and four other past winners, including her sister Venus and wild card Kim Clijsters, are in the provisional women’s field for the US Open.

Ninety-nine of the top 100 women in the WTA rankings received direct entry on Thursday into the hard-court Grand Slam tournament, played from August 31 to September 13 in New York. The one missing is No 88 Nathalie Dechy of France, who announced her retirement this week.

Serena Williams will be bidding for her fourth US Open championship and third major title of 2009, after those at the Australian Open in January and Wimbledon this month. She owns 11 Grand Slam singles titles, the most among active players.

Clijsters will be playing at Flushing Meadows for the first time since winning her only major title at the 2005 US Open. She is making a comeback after retiring in 2007. She asked the US Tennis Association for a wild card and was granted one. To prepare for the US Open, the 26-year-old Belgian — who is married and has a daughter — will be playing in WTA hard-courts events at Cincinnati and Toronto.

The other past US Open champions in the field are Venus Williams (2000-01), Svetlana Kuznetsova (2004) and Maria Sharapova (2006). Other Grand Slam singles title winners in the field are Amelie Mauresmo and Ana Ivanovic. Kuznetsova also won this year’s French Open, beating No 1-ranked Dinara Safina in the final.

Safina is atop the list of 104 direct entries. They’ll be joined in the 128-player field by the eight women (including Clijsters) who receive wild cards and the 16 who will earn berths in August 25-28 qualifying. The men’s field was announced on Wednesday, led by five-time defending champion Roger Federer. The winners of the US Open men’s and women’s title will each receive a record $1.6 million.