Serena escapes at Melbourne
Williams, pursuing her fourth straight Grand Slam title, overcame 55 unforced errors in her opening-round match at Melbourne.
Also, Lleyton Hewitt, the men's top seed and local hope, had a tough time in his opening match before holding off qualifier Magnus Larsson of Sweden, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7 (3-7), 6-2.
Williams was very close to becoming only the second top-seeded woman in the Open Era (post-1968) to lose in the first round at the Australian Open. Flustered by her opponent's varied lefthanded shots, she was three points from defeat in the second set and later was down a break in the third before pulling out her 22nd consecutive match win at a major.
"I made too many errors," Williams said. "I didn't play anywhere near to my ability, even the way I was playing in Perth (two weeks ago at the Hopman Cup), I didn't even play anywhere near the way I was playing there, so it was just me making errors and not attacking and getting a little tense, a little tight and just not doing what I need to do. The problem was me not looking at the ball or hitting late and just not doing my techniques right. I never thought I was going to lose the match. The thought never crossed my mind. I did think, 'Gosh, this is bad,' but I didn't think I was actually going to lose."
Loit, ranked 56th in the world, became the first player to take a set from Williams in a Grand Slam tournament since Jennifer Capriati won the opening set of the semifinals at last year's French Open.
"It's the best match I've ever played on a tennis level and feeling level," Loit said. "I was believing in it from the beginning. I played well the first set. I even played very well in the second set. I was very close. I really thought until the end, why not, that I could do it."
The year's first major was on the verge of losing two of its top three seeded women when Williams was at 40-30 on serve at 5-6 in the second set, but she hit a service winner to force a tiebreaker.
Williams then lost her serve in the fifth game of the decisive set, but broke right back and again in the 12th game to avoid joining Virginia Ruzici as top-seeded first-round losers at the Australian Open.
"I just had a bad today," said Williams, who was experiencing pain in her right knee. "I haven't had a bad day in a little while. Actually, it's been a little while since I've actually had a bad match. Usually, I play good matches. Today's just one of those days. I'm just happy I was able to pull that through."
Ruzici fell to Mary Sawyer in the opening round in 1979, a time when many of the world's top players did not make the trip to Australia.
Capriati, the third seed and two-time defending champion, was ousted Monday by Marlene Weingartner.
While not in a position to claim a legitimate Grand Slam (all four major tournaments in the same calendar year), Williams is trying to become the first woman to win four consecutive majors since Steffi Graf in 1993-94.
Williams' only loss in her last four majors was a final setback to older sister Venus in the 2001 U.S. Open. After missing last year's Australian Open with a right ankle injury, Serena avenged the defeat by beating her sibling in the finals of the French Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open.
One player who feels she can break the Williams sisters' domination of the WTA Tour is fourth-seeded Kim Clijsters of Belgium, who routed Samantha Reeves of the U.S., 6-2, 6-1, in 62 minutes.
"I don’t know how close I am," Clijsters said. "I just try to get the best out of my game and then we'll see. I try to get as fit as I can and to be able to compete with all the other top girls that are up there. I've beaten Serena and Venus before. Each time I play against them, it's a different match."
Clijsters captured her 11th career title last week at Sydney, and has won 19 of 20 matches since a semifinal loss to Anastasia Myskina in September at Leipzig. Since that defeat, she has won four titles, including the season-ending championship at Los Angeles over Serena Williams.
Clijsters' boyfriend, Hewitt, came close to his second straight first-round elimination at Melboure. Last year, suffering the aftereffects of chicken pox, he became the first top seed in the Open Era to lose in the first round.
"I'm happy to be through to the second round," Hewitt said. "A win's a win for me. I think sometimes it's good (to have a tough one). It's a little bit of a wake-up call in some ways I guess."
The native of Adelaide, Australia is trying to become the first male from his country to win the Australian since Mark Edmondson in 1976.
"It's a lot of relief after last year I guess, more than anything, losing in the first round last year and feeling shocked at the whole situation," he said. "I think of the sour taste left in my mouth, and I could come out here (now) and get rid of it. I'm just going to get better and better from now on."
Hewitt won five titles and finished 2002 ranked No. 1 for the second season in a row. He claimed his second career Grand Slam crown at Wimbledon, but started this season with middling results, going 2-2 at the Hopman Cup.
Marat Safin, the men's third seed and 2002 finalist, put his sore shoulder to the test in a 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over Raemon Sluiter of the Netherlands.
Safin withdrew last week from the quarterfinals at Sydney because he was unable to serve at full strength. However, he received treatment over the weekend and declared himself fit after practicing Sunday.
"I'm taking care of it," Safin said. "I'm taking some anti-inflammatories, Vioxx, but it's OK. The pain is going away. It's much better, much better. Like next match, I think will be perfect then."
Other winners included No. 6 Roger Federer of Switzerland; No. 7 Jiri Novak of the Czech Republic; and No. 9 Andy Roddick of the U.S., who overcame Zeljko Krajan of Croatia, 6-7 (9-11), 6-2, 7-6 (7-0), 6-3.
No. 15 Alex Corretja of Spain became the highest men's seed to exit. Feliciano Lopez handed his countryman his second straight first-round loss at Melbourne, 6-7 (3-7), 7-6 (11-9), 7-6 (8-6), 6-3.
Among other winners on the women's side was sixth-seeded Monica Seles of the U.S. The 29-year-old American has won the Australian eight times, and owns a 42-3 record at Melbourne, but has not played an official WTA Tour match this season. She won an exhibition two weeks ago in Hong Kong.
No. 8 Anastasia Myskina of Russia was a winner, as were No. 10 Chanda Rubin of the U.S.;
and No. 11 Magdalena Maleeva of Bulgaria.
Summitt goes after No. 800
KNOXVILLE, Tn., Jan. 14 (UPI) -- Pat Summitt of Tennessee Tuesday night tries to eclipse the 800-win mark when the Lady Vols host DePaul.
Summitt is the all-time winningest women's college basketball coach. She would become the sixth college coach to win 800 games in a career, the third in Division I, and the first woman.
Dean Smith of North Carolina is the all-time leader in college basketball with 879 wins and Kentucky's Adolph Rupp is second with 876.
"It's hard for me to put myself in the league with a Dean Smith or an Adolph Rupp," Summitt told The Tennessean. "I can't. I just don't put myself in that company."
Summitt, 50, has led Tennessee to six national championships. She has a career record of 799-161, and is just two wins ahead of Texas women's coach Jody Conradt (797-262).
Summitt has coached 99 fewer games.
Both started the season with 788 wins, but Summitt is ahead in the race for 800 with an 11-3 record while Conradt is 9-4.
When Summitt won her first game in 1974 for Tennessee, a 69-32 victory over Middle Tennessee State, just 53 people were in attendance at Alumni Gym. A crowd of about 13,000 is expected for Tuesday's game at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Washington to enter NFL draft
KNOXVILLE, Tn., Jan. 14 (UPI) -- Wide receiver Kelly Washington of Tennessee Tuesday announced his intention to go pro.
The decision was not a surprise.
Washington, a speedy and talented wideout, endured an injury-plagued sophomore season. He was expected to be one of the nation's top receivers in the start of the 2002 season, but was bothered by a back injury and limited to four games. He caught 23 passes for 443 yards and a touchdown.
"I came to the University of Tennessee because of its great coaching staff and rich tradition in football," Washington said. "The coaches have been great to me in teaching me skills as a wide receiver. I came to the Univeristy of Tennessee as a walk-on. My vision and dream was to become a great receiver and contribute to the team's goal of competing for a national championship."
Washington, 23, spent four years as an infielder in the Florida Marlins organization before joining Tennessee in 2001. In his freshman season, the 6-4 225-pounder had 64 receptions for 1,010 yards and five touchdowns. He thought about entering the 2002 draft.
"In January of last year, I decided not to enter the NFL draft so I could help the team and improve my skills as a wide receiver," he said. "I made this decision in what I thought would be the best for my family, the team, and me. During the Georgia game, I was injured and could not continue to play because of the injury. While I was on the sideline, I had a difficult time watching and not participating."
Washington is the second Volunteer in as many days to leave school early for the NFL draft. On Monday, Jason Witten, a finalist for the John Mackey Award as the nation's best tight end, announced that he will skip his senior season.
Also Monday, Miami running back Willis McGahee and wide receiver Andre Johnson announced they will forgo the rest of their college eligibility for the draft. McGahee, a sophomore, tore three ligaments in his left knee when Miami lost the national title game to Ohio State on Jan. 3.
The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft is Wednesday.
McGahee to try to turn pro
MIAMI, Jan. 14 (UPI) -- Despite a serious knee injury, Miami running back Willis McGahee will enter the NFL draft pool this year.
He will be joined by star wide receiver Andre Johnson.
McGahee, who tore three ligaments in his left knee in the national title game loss to Ohio State, announced his plans to make himself available for the draft on Monday night.
Johnson told the Miami Herald that he also will try to turn pro, thus forgoing his senior season at Miami.
"I just felt like I was ready to go to the next level," Johnson told the newspaper.
The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft is Wednesday.
McGahee, a Heisman Trophy finalist who helped Miami play for a second straight national championship in the Fiesta Bowl, underwent knee surgery on Jan. 5 after tearing up his knee in the fourth quarter of the Hurricanes' 31-24 double-overtime loss to Ohio State.
The 6-1, 224-pound McGahee, a third-year sophomore, rushed for 1,686 yards and 27 touchdowns after beginning spring practice behind Frank Gore on the depth chart.
While McGahee took out a $2.5 million insurance policy in case he does not play again, he likely would have received an NFL signing bonus far exceeding that if he was not hurt.
"I have no reason to seek and I have no interest in seeking to collect on my $2.5 million insurance policy," McGahee said in a prepared statement. "My unfulfilled dream is to play in the NFL."
Johnson led the Hurricanes last season with 1,092 receiving yards. He caught 52 passes, including nine for touchdowns.
Kennison gets long-term deal
KANSAS CITY, Jan. 14 (UPI) -- The Kansas City Chiefs have signed wide receiver Eddie Kennison to a six-year contract.
Financial terms were not disclosed, but the Kansas City Star reported that, with incentives, the deal could be worth as much as $18.5 million.
The paper also said Kennison will get a $3.2 million signing bonus.
"Eddie definitely wanted this," his agent, John Hamilton, told the paper. "He had an opportunity to probably do a lot better financially on the free-agent market, but that's not where he wanted to be."
The Chiefs are looking to keep their explosive offense intact, but the Kennison deal was a bit of a shock. Before he came to Kansas City, he walked out a day before a game for his former employer, the Denver Broncos.
Kennison, 29, was an integral part of the NFL's highest-scoring offense this past season, leading the club with 906 yards receiving, 53 receptions, and two touchdowns while playing in all 16 games.
"Eddie was an important part of our offensive success last year and we did not want him to pursue free agency," said Chiefs President Carl Peterson.
Kennison signed with the Chiefs for the final five games of the 2001 season after being released by the Broncos. He also has played for St. Louis, New Orleans, and Chicago in his career, catching 296 passes for 4,343 yards with 19 touchdowns in 106 games.
In each of his previous NFL stops, he was tabbed a "bad apple," and his attitude turnaround under Kansas City Coach Dick Vermeil has been a pleasant surprise.
The Lake Charles, La., native, who played collegiately at LSU, has played in 106 games (83 starts) over seven seasons in the NFL, and was a first-round pick by New Orleans in 1996.
Ripken to pair up with Mattingly
EVANSVILLE, In., Jan. 14 (UPI) -- Two former baseball stars announced Tuesday that they are bringing minor league baseball to Evansville, In.
The pair will own minority shares of a Class-A team, which currently plays in the South Atlantic League as the South Georgia Waves, an affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The team will remain in Albany, Ga., through the 2003 campaign.
David Heller, a Washington-based political consultant, will remain the team's principal owner when it moves to Evansville.
"To be part of this project in my hometown is such a great feeling," Mattingly said. "Going into this, we all agreed that we didn't want to partner with just anyone. We needed quality people here in Evansville and we certainly achieved that goal."
"We are very happy to be part of a team that includes Don Mattingly and David Heller," Ripken said. "The fact that this is Don's hometown and that David will be calling Evansville home is proof of our group's commitment to the project."
The ownership group will make a financial commitment of over $12 million during the life of a 20-year lease along with a number of contributions to the ballpark's construction.
Ripken already owns the Class-A Aberdeen IronBirds of the New York-Penn League. His company, Ripken Management and Design, also advises minor league teams on how to find potential owners.
"Having brought baseball back to my hometown with great success with the Aberdeen IronBirds, it is exciting to work with Don to bring baseball to his hometown and work on his project from the outset," Ripken said.
Dodgers ink Borbon, Mota
LOS ANGELES, Jan. 14 (UPI) -- The Los Angeles Dodgers have agreed to contract terms with pitchers Pedro Borbon and Guillermo Mota.
Financial terms were not disclosed for Mota, one of four Dodgers who were eligible for arbitration.
The signings continued the Dodgers' offseason plan to add bullpen.
Mota, a righthander, inked a one-year contract. Borbon, who used to pitch for Los Angeles, signed a minor-league deal. He was invited to spring training as a non-roster player.
Mota, 29, split last season between the majors and the Pacific Coast League, going 1-3 with a 4.15 ERA in 43 relief appearances with the Dodgers. His .202 opponents' batting average was second on the team behind closer Eric Gagne (.189).
Borbon, 35, pitched for Houston and Toronto in 2002, going 4-4 with one save and a 5.36 ERA in a career-high 72 games. The son of the former major league reliever with the same name was 4-3 with one save and a 4.09 ERA in 70 games with Los Angeles in 1999.
Borbon was signed by the Dodgers in 1999 after he missed two full seasons with major elbow surgery. He went 4-3 with a 4.09 ERA in 1999, then was traded with Raul Mondesi to Toronto for Shawn Green.
Since November, the Dodgers have added pitchers Luke Prokopec, Rodney Myers, Troy Brohawn, Yorkis Perez, and Calvin Maduro. All but Prokopec signed minor league deals.
Thrashers hire Hartley
ATLANTA, Jan. 14 (UPI) -- Bob Hartley Tuesday was named head coach of the NHL's Atlanta Thrashers.
The hiring comes less than a month after he was fired from a similar post by the Colorado Avalanche. He now will take control of transforming the NHL's worst team.
Hartley led Colorado to a Stanley Cup title in 2001, but was fired on Dec. 18, as the second coach in team history.
"Each coaching situation has its own set of challenges and opportunities, and I'm ecstatic to have the opportunity to get back into coaching again this season and be a part of an exciting, young organization like the Thrashers," said Hartley, who will make his debut Wednesday against Montreal.
General Manager Don Waddell had served as interim coach for nine games after firing Curt Fraser on Dec. 26, and was delighted to land Hartley.
"Bob is a proven winner in the NHL, and has an impressive record of success," Waddell said. "Hiring him to coach this team is another major example of our efforts to continue to build and improve this hockey club. His leadership and experience behind the bench will be a huge plus for all of our players now and for many years to come."
Terry Murray, former coach of the Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers, and Florida Panthers, also interviewed for the job.
Hartley's hiring was first reported Saturday by the RDS Cable Network of Canada, which said the Thrashers were waiting for Hartley to resolve financial issues with the Avalanche.
In Colorado, Hartley coached a galaxy of stars that included Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Patrick Roy, and Rob Blake. With the Thrashers, he will rely on Dany Heatley, the 2002 Calder Trophy winner, and Ilya Kovalchuk, the runnerup for last year's rookie award.
"This team has some great talent, and I look forward to taking them to the next level," Hartley said.
The Thrashers, in their fourth season, are last in the NHL with a 12-25-2-4 record and 30 points. They were 3-5-1-0 under Waddell, who ended his term with a 7-4 victory over the first-place Philadelphia Flyers on Monday night.
Hartley, 42, led the Avalanche to division titles and the conference finals in each of his four full seasons with Colorado, and is the franchise's second-winningest coach with a record of 193-109-48-9.
High expectations cost Hartley his job with Colorado. He was fired on Dec. 18 after the team started 10-8-9-4 in 2002-03. The move did little to spur the Avalanche, who are just 7-5
Hartley becomes the second coach to work for two teams this season, joining Darryl Sutter, who was hired by Calgary on Dec. 28, four weeks after he was fired by San Jose.
Until the 2002-03 campaign, the last coach to work for two teams in the same season was Ted Sator, who guided the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres in 1986-87.