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Martin Rogers

Venus' personal inauguration

Busted Racquet

It took just a few moments after Venus Williams slid into her chair in the Melbourne Park media theater for the questions to start flooding in about Barack Obama.

After sister Serena Williams had earlier waxed emotional about the incoming president, reporters were determined to elicit the thoughts of the elder Williams.

However, they quickly found Venus’ current focus remains on one thing, an inauguration of her own Down Under.

As Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Williams sisters are essentially apolitical, refraining from voting and discouraged by their religion from following secular politics.

Yet while Serena could not help but get caught up in the excitement of Obama’s big day, Venus’ thoughts were trained simply on winning the Australian Open for the first time.

Venus Williams has never won at Melbourne Park, yet shares tournament favoritism with her three-time champion sister.

A 6-3, 6-3 victory against Angelique Kerber of Germany was the right kind of start, although Kerber did put up a fight and led 3-1 in the second set before being blown off court.

Venus, 28, lost an all-Williams Australian Open final in 2003 and bowed out at the quarterfinal stage four times.

This year, though, the word on tour is that she is approaching the new season with a renewed sense of hunger and determination to add to her seven Grand Slam titles.

“I feel good,” she said. “I definitely feel like I am one of the players with the opportunity to take the title home.

“I don’t see it as being extra motivation that I haven’t won this title -- it doesn’t put any extra pressure on me.”

Looking ahead into the draw, the biggest obstacle for Venus appears to be a potential semifinal showdown with her sister.

Fourth seed Elena Dementieva is a possible quarterfinal opponent, although Williams would go into that matchup as a strong favorite.

Having been unable to win a major outside of Wimbledon (she has five London titles) since 2001, a big result in this event would make a powerful statement at the start of the year.

The limited tournament schedule played by the Williams duo affects their ranking, with Venus currently down in sixth position.

The summit of the women’s game is packed tight, though, and Jelena Jankovic’s No. 1 ranking is under attack.

In previous years it has seemed Venus was far more concerned with winning Slams than with her ranking, yet that approach may be somewhat different now.

“I think being number one does matter,” she said. “It matters because me and the rest of the women on tour all give 100 percent. So any reward, ranking, tournaments, points, whatever it may be, it all matters.”

Note to the field: You have been warned.

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