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Serena ready to take on any challenge

Published:Wednesday | January 13, 2010 | 12:00 AM


Top-ranked Serena Williams opened her season with a 6-1, 6-2 win over Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez yesterday, reaching the quarter-finals at a Sydney International, where other leading players have struggled.

No. 3 Svetlana Kuznetsova lost 7-5, 6-2 to Slovakia's Dominika Cibulkova late yesterday, joining fourth-seeded Caroline Wozniacki, No. 7 Jelena Jankovic and No. 8 Vera Zvonareva as losers in the first two rounds.

Second-seeded Dinara Safina was in trouble in her first set since she quit with a back injury at the season-ending championships in October, losing the opening five games before recovering to win nine straight in a 7-5, 6-4 victory over Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland.

Upcoming matches

Safina will next play Olympic gold medallist Elena Dementieva, who held off Slovakia's Daniela Hantuchova 6-2, 4-6, 6-2.

Sixth-seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus beat Japanese veteran Kimiko Date Krumm 6-1, 5-7, 7-5.

Elena Vesnina, who advanced from the first round when Zvonareva retired hurt on Monday, lost 6-3, 6-4 yesterday to Vera Dushevina, who now plays Williams in the quarter-finals.

Williams said she wasn't bothered about how many seeded players made early exits, or how it opened up the draw for her.

"I don't care who I play. Whenever I play someone they play their best." she said. "I play Vera Dushevina next and she's a good player and she's been ranked high before.

"So whoever I play, believe me, they're going to play like No. 1 on that particular day against me for whatever reason, so it doesn't matter for me."

Main warm-up

Williams is using the Sydney tournament as her main warm-up for the first major of the season, which starts next Monday in Melbourne.

Safina spent one hour and 47 minutes on court and dropped serve five times in a struggle against No. 10-ranked Radwanska. Despite the slow start, she said the back inflammation which restricted her training until the middle of last month didn't cause her any concerns in Sydney.

"I was 5-love down, but the only problem was I was missing everything - everything was flying all over the place," Safina said. "So once I win a game, I'm like, 'OK, let's start like this.'

"Once it clicked, it started to be better."