AUSTRALIAN OPEN Serena's title erases doubts

Williams answered the critics by winning her seventh major championship.
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -- Serena Williams was fed up with the same old question: What's happened to the Williams sisters?
She showed 'em.
Down a set and facing a break, her back hurting and her serve misfiring, Williams dug deep to beat top-ranked Lindsay Davenport 2-6, 6-3, 6-0 in Saturday's Australian Open final, ending an 18-month Grand Slam title drought.
"I've always considered myself the best and the top," she said. "I never considered that I was out of it. Ever."
She won the last nine consecutive games and lost only eight points in the deciding set en route to her seventh major championship. Her previous Grand Slam title was at Wimbledon in 2003, the last in a sequence of five titles in six majors.
"I never, ever, think that I have to give up, in the most dire situations," Williams said.
Difficult year
She is coming off a year of physical and emotional upheaval. Williams and sister Venus have contended with injuries and the shooting death of sister Yetunde Price in September 2003. Many began to wonder if the sisters had lost their aura.
"It's that much sweeter because people are always wondering about what's happening to us," Serena said. "It's nothing. The matches we lose, it's just maybe because of a few points here, a few points there of not playing well but we're really in it."
While the Williams sisters were not winning Grand Slam titles, the championships went to Belgians Justine Henin-Hardenne and Russians Anastasia Myskina, Maria Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Davenport rose to No. 1 in the rankings, despite thoughts of retirement, without adding to her three major titles. Amelie Mauresmo -- without a Grand Slam title -- held the No. 2 ranking.
Impressive victories
Williams overwhelmed Mauresmo in the quarterfinals. She avenged her Wimbledon final loss to Sharapova, saving three match points before beating the 17-year-old Russian in the semifinals. Williams then found her range against Davenport.
Venus, winner of four majors, is still on the comeback. She lost to Alicia Molik in the fourth round in Australia.
For Serena, beating three of the top four players will send her to No. 2 spot when the WTA releases its rankings Monday. She will be the first woman to move to No. 2 from outside the top five in a single tournament.
"I haven't played enough tournaments yet, but I really feel that I'm doing the best that I can and I think it will all pay off," she said. "Eventually I'll be where I want to be."
The next objective is a French Open crown, which would give her record a little symmetry.
"I feel that I need to win the French because I've won two of each already except for the French," she said.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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