Clijsters seeks winning combination for title defence

Defending champion Kim Clijsters believes focus and fortune will be key in determining the winner of this year’s Australian Open.

The Belgian, who also dismissed concerns over her fitness, was speaking after the draw which pitted her against a qualifier in round one although trickier tests lie in wait with world No 1 Caroline Wozniacki and Li Na, the Chinese she beat in last year’s final, in the same quarter.

With the last seven grand slam crowns won by six different players – only Clijsters has claimed two – the draw looks wide open, a point emphasised by the 11th seed.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

“When I was younger everyone was pencilling top seeds in the semi-finals and quarter-finals,” said Clijsters. “That’s totally changed now. There has to be a different mindset from the top players and you have to be focused from round one. There are new, upcoming players who I’ve never played that you have to be aware of.

“The one who focuses the best and has a little bit of luck will be the winner.”

Clijsters was forced to withdraw midway through her semi-final against Daniela Hantuchova at the Brisbane International last week but yesterday declared she was “ready to go” in Melbourne.

“I didn’t play many matches in the second half of last year and missed most of the American summer but I have trained hard in the off-season,” she said. I am feeling good and ready to go.”

Clijsters, who is competing in her final season on the WTA Tour, is slated to meet Elena Baltacha in her second-round encounter providing the Scot can see off Stephanie Foretz Gacon in her opener. A repeat encounter with Hantuchova could then take place with Li, Wozniacki, who is also under an injury cloud, and then third seed Victoria Azarenka to follow.

Baltacha is hoping the Belgian does not get that far. The British No 1 said: “We’ll see how both of us go in the first round but obviously it would be great to play Kim. I’ve got a good record of winning matches in grand slams over the last couple of years and I’d like to keep that up, so all I’m thinking about at the moment is that first round match.”

Wozniacki opens against Anastasia Rodionova. The Dane injured her wrist during her quarter-final loss to Agnieszka Radwanska in Sydney but she expects to be fit for Melbourne.

Serena Williams, a winner of 13 grand slam crowns, was paired with Tamira Paszek in the opening round and could meet fourth-seeded Russian Maria Sharapova in the quarters.

US Open champion and home favourite Samantha Stosur meets Sorana Cirstea in her first match after being placed in the same quarter as Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, who opens against Russia’s Vera Dushevina.

Azarenka was drawn against Heather Watson, whose fellow Briton Anne Keothavong was paired with Mona Barthel.