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Tennis: Mother's 'fight' plea pays off for Venus

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By Associated Press

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Venus Williams was in the middle of a first-set tiebreaker at the Australian Open on Wednesday when her mother yelled some encouragement from the players' box at Rod Laver Arena.

Oracene Price's urges to "fight" were clearly intended for her daughter, but they appeared to immediately fall on deaf ears, and with good reason. On the last point of the tiebreaker she eventually lost, Venus hurt herself on a twisting backhand volley.

Writhing in pain and clutching near her stomach as she walked back to her courtside chair, a WTA trainer was called and Williams took a medical timeout. A few minutes later, she returned with her upper right thigh taped and a whole new attitude.

She later said she injured her "psoas" muscle, which flexes the hip and spinal column.

"It was really tough, but I'm a long way from home and it's such a long way I didn't want to go back yet," Williams said after surviving through a 6-7 (6), 6-0, 6-4 second-round win over her Czech opponent, Sandra Zahlavova.

"You've got to be able to play under all kinds of circumstances — good, bad, strange, weird, all of the above. I had to just calm myself down. In the middle of a match like that, you can get a little hysterical."

Her fighting spirit — and the strapping and perhaps a painkiller — helped continue a streak in which Williams has completed all 257 singles matches she has started at Grand Slams.

Never has she retired with an injury in a major.

Still, she needed some help at the end, asking courtside staff — first chair umpire Alison Lang of Britain, then a ballboy — to help carry off her equipment. Williams was well enough to carry off her glitzy handbag, though, which went with her outfit — a revealing peek-a-boo lattice-style top with a multicolored satin short skirt she later referred to as her "Alice in Wonderland" outfit.

The fashion stakes weren't quite at the same level elsewhere at Melbourne Park on Wednesday, but the tennis was just as good — Novak Djokovic, Andy Roddick, top-seeded woman Caroline Wozniacki, last year's finalist Justine Henin and 2008 champion Maria Sharapova all advanced.

No. 3 Djokovic beat Ivan Dodig 7-5, 6-7 (10), 6-0, 6-2. Djokovic, who beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the 2008 final for his only Grand Slam, appeared comfortable all over the court against Dodig, who nevertheless challenged Djokovic in the first two sets with a powerful serve and strong baseline shots. Djokovic answered with his own baseline winners.

Djokovic will next play his Davis Cup teammate Viktor Troicki after the 29th-seeded player beat Frenchman Nicolas Mahut 6-4, 6-2, 1-6, 6-3.

Wozniacki advanced with a 6-1, 6-0 win over American Vania King in the Danish player's first major as No. 1. The 20-year-old reached the third round for a 13th consecutive Grand Slam.

To get to the semis, Wozniacki might have to beat seven-time Grand Slam winner Henin, who continued her comeback from injury with a 6-1, 6-3 win over Elena Baltacha of Britain.

The pair could meet in the quarterfinals. Henin will have to get through a tough match against two-time major winner Svetlana Kuznetsova just to get past the third round. The 23-seeded Kuznetsova beat Dutch qualifier Arantxa Rus 6-1, 6-4.

"I have a lot of good memories, almost all good memories, from Melbourne," said Henin, the 2004 Australian champion and runner-up here in 2006 and last year, when she was returning from a career break from the tour.

No. 8 Victoria Azarenka, the 2010 quarterfinalist who lost to Serena Williams each of the past three years, beat Andrea Hlavackova 6-4, 6-4. Serena Williams is injured and not defending her title in Australia.

In other matches, Barbora Zahlavova Strycova of the Czech Republic beat Australian wild card Jelena Dokic 7-6 (3), 6-1, and No. 9 Li Na defeated Evgeniya Rodina of Russia 6-3, 6-2.

On the men's side, Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych needed four match points to beat Philipp Kohlschreiber 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4, and eighth-seeded Roddick fired his 17th ace to finish off a 7-6 (7), 6-2, 6-3 second-round win over Igor Kunitsyn of Russia. The former No. 1-ranked Roddick is into the third round at Melbourne Park for the ninth straight time.

"When you're confident, the court just makes sensee. Decisions come easier to you," he said.

Roddick's U.S. Davis Cup teammate Mardy Fish made a second-round exit, the No. 16 seed losing 1-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 to Tommy Robredo. And ninth-seeded Fernando Verdasco rallied from two sets down to beat Serbia's Janko Tipsarevic 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (0), 6-0, conceding just one point on his serve in the last set.