January 09, 2010

SYDNEY (AP) -- Serena Williams could face Justine Henin in the second round at next week's Sydney International in what would be her second high-profile match in a matter of months against a former top-ranked Belgian who is coming back from retirement.

The two stars, who have 18 Grand Slam singles titles between them, were placed in the same bracket of eight at the draw for the ATP-WTA tournament on Saturday.

Top-ranked Williams has a first-round bye. If wildcard entry Henin beats Spanish left-hander Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez in the first round, Williams and Henin will meet in the second.

After 20 months in retirement and without a ranking, the 27-year-old Henin has advanced to the Brisbane International final against Belgian compatriot Kim Clijsters on Saturday night. She will travel to Sydney on Sunday and was expecting to play her first-round match on Monday. Nine of the top 10-ranked women will play in Sydney, the final warmup event for the Australian Open.

"It's good -- it will be a good test for her, and for me," said Williams, who arrived in Australia on Saturday.

Williams said she didn't feel any added pressure to retain her top ranking with both Clijsters and Henin back in the mix for 2010.

"I don't think about it a lot. I've got a lot on my plate. Everyone assumes that I'm No. 1 anyway," the 10-time major winner said. "My main goals are always to stay healthy, and that's a huge goal for any athlete.

"For me, it's all about doing the best that I can. Obviously I love playing well in all the Grand Slams and I hate to lose, regardless of where it is."

The Sydney International will be Williams only warm-up tournament before heading to Melbourne in search of a fifth Australian Open singles title when the year's first Grand Slam begins Jan. 18.

Henin is one of the few players on the women's tour with a comparable head-to-head record against Williams, having won six and lost seven against the 11-time Grand Slam champion.

"I'm sure she'll be ready and amped to go," Williams said. "She has a good record against me so I'm sure it will be a good match."

Williams lost only two games in their last encounter at Miami in 2008, shortly before Henin announced her shock retirement from tennis while holding the No. 1 ranking.

Williams will be playing just her second tournament since her controversial U.S. Open semifinal loss to Clijsters in September, from which she received a record $82,000 fine and a two-year suspended sentence for threatening a lineswoman on match point.

Williams lashed out at the lineswoman after a foot-fault call. It was a profanity-laced display in which Williams approached the official with what U.S. Open tournament director Jim Curley described at the time "a threatening manner."

Clijsters went on to win the tournament, her third back from more than two years in retirement, becoming the first mother to win a singles major since Evonne Goolagong Cawley at Wimbledon in 1980.

Four months later, Williams is reluctant to discuss the tirade any further.

"Of course, I've had plenty of time," to think about it, Williams said. "I don't feel one way or the other. It's over and it was what it was. I think I've spoken enough about it."

Bidding for a record fifth men's title in Sydney, fourth-seeded Lleyton Hewitt will enjoy a first-round bye but is projected to run into former Australian Open runner-up Marcos Baghdatis in the quarterfinals.

The unseeded Baghdatis opens his campaign against Australian Open wild-card playoff winner Nick Lindahl.

Top-seeded Gael Monfils and second-seeded Tomas Berdych both lost semifinals in Brisbane on Saturday and have first-round byes in Sydney.

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