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Serenity for Serena

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The last image that most of the tennis world has of Serena Williams is her extraordinary rant at a U.S. Open official in September, when she lost the plot, her shot at the title and, eventually, a fistful of dollars in fines.

Williams heads into a new tennis year under even more scrutiny than usual, but it's not just her temperament that will be under the spotlight heading into the Australian Open next week.

After a 2009 season that provided a phony war at the top of the women's game, the new campaign offers the possibility of some real competition among the leading lights.

Williams' tussle with Dinara Safina for the No. 1 ranking for much of last year was the product of a nonsensical aberration in the ratings system that allowed Safina, despite her dwindling form, to remain ahead for much of 2009 despite Williams' dominance in majors.

While that situation became little more than an embarrassing sideshow for women's tennis, the returns of Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin offer plotlines filled with genuine intrigue heading into Melbourne. Both Belgians have a losing record against Williams, yet both are tenacious fighters who do not suffer from the same fear factor against Williams that much of the women's field does.

In other words, Clijsters and Henin are capable of battling a focused Serena Williams – any distractions on Williams' side can only help.

But as defending tournament champ Williams aims to add to her tally of four Australian Open titles and 11 majors, she remains adamant that the New York incident is behind her and that she will be fully focused as she gets back into the Grand Slam swing.

"I don't feel one way or the other about it now. It was what it was and I think I've spoken enough about it since," Williams said. "You guys know me, I feel like it's over.

"I'm feeling really good. It always takes a little while to get into a new season, it always takes a couple of matches, but regardless I'm going in with a positive attitude."

Williams downplayed pain she felt in her knee during Friday's loss to Elena Dementieva in the Sydney International final. The better news for her Friday came from the Australian Open draw, which was relatively kind to Williams – even though she was placed in the same half of the bracket as her sister Venus.

But she avoided the brutal bottom half of the bracket, with the unseeded Henin (due to her inactivity) and 15th-ranked Clijsters, who won last year's U.S. Open, sandwiched in among a host of high seeds.

"I think it is good for tennis that Justine is back and Kim is playing well," Williams said. "But it doesn't bother me and I am confident that if I perform to my best, I will add more Slams."

Prediction

Semifinals: Serena Williams beats Caroline Wozniacki, Justine Henin beats Maria Sharapova

Final: Serena Williams beats Justine Henin