Serena Williams inspired by Davenport's rapid return after giving birth

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MELBOURNE, Australia - New mom Lindsay Davenport is Serena Williams' "ultimate" role model.

Former No. 1 Davenport, the 2000 Australian Open champion, won in Auckland, New Zealand, last week for her third title in four events since giving birth last June to her first child, son Jagger.

This year's defending champion is impressed.

"I'm speechless because she looks better than me and she's seven months out of having a baby." Williams said Saturday.

"I'm convinced if I had a baby, seven months later I'd probably still be in the hospital trying to get over the pain," she laughed.

"She is my ultimate role model. I'm really so motivated... she's just taken it to a new level."

Davenport plays Italy's Sara Errani in the first round and could face last year's finalist Maria Sharapova in the second.

"I haven't seen her play since she's returned," Williams said of Davenport. "She's winning... I think Maria's playing really well too. It will definitely be one to watch."

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NEW, BLUE COURTS: The jury is out on the new Plexicushion surface at Melbourne Park that is supposed to reduce injuries and be less hot on the feet.

Rafael Nadal doesn't notice much difference, Serena Williams does.

The blue surface replaces the green-colored Rebound Ace that had been a feature of the Australian Open at Melbourne Park since the tournament moved from grass at Kooyong 20 years ago.

"I don't see much difference, in my opinion," Nadal said.

Williams admitted that she doesn't often notice much variation in hard courts.

"It's not as bouncy as it was last year, which I like," Williams said. "My gosh, I was spraining my ankle so much and getting so many blisters all the time."

Serbia's Ana Ivanovic said she felt the new surface would be slower but cause fewer injuries.

"I find it quite slow, but it's very good for the body. It's quite soft," Ivanovic said, adding that the ball bounces higher.

Russia's Marat Safin, the 2005 champion, said he could get used to any change in the bounce or pace of the surface, but not the color.

"It's blue. It's not right."

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RAFA READY: Perennial No 2. is as ready as he'll ever be to begin chasing down perennial No. 1 Roger Federer in the first Grand Slam of the year.

Rafael Nadal had a short but strenuous offseason of training, which was a good thing considering his first tournament at Chennai, India.

Nadal and his Spanish countryman Carlos Moya were on the court for 3 hours, 54 minutes in an epic semifinal - the longest three-set match on the ATP Tour in 15 years.

Nadal won, but was wasted physically by the encounter and lost the final to Mikhail Youzhny 6-0, 6-1 in less than an hour.

"I had less than 24 hours to recover," Nadal said Saturday of the turnaround in Chennai. "I went to sleep late and I finished the match late. It was tough."

Nadal spent a month at his home base of Mallorca hitting a lot of balls.

The schedule was "8:30 to 9:30 physical performance (gym), 9:30 to 1 tennis, 3 to 5 tennis, 6 to 7:15 physical, and after I sleep," Nadal said.

Nadal, who plays a qualifier in the first round this year, lost in the quarterfinals last year in straight sets to eventual finalist Fernando Gonzalez.

"Last year probably was my worst year... I played bad tennis," Nadal said. "This year I am arriving well, practicing well, and I had some matches in Chennai. So I hope will be fine for Monday."

Nadal doesn't expect to overhaul Federer anytime soon - "I think it is not a real chance - not yet."

And he doesn't know whether Federer's recent stomach virus that forced him to pull out of the Kooyong exhibition will give the rest of the men's field an improved chance this year.

"I will tell you in two weeks," Nadal said.


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