Williams, Sharapova enter Australian Open with contrasting preparations

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Serena Williams lost two of four singles matches in her preparations for the Australian Open, while Maria Sharapova won the Brisbane International.

Despite those contrasting results for the top two women in tennis, neither player was reading too much into their form lines a few days from Monday's start of the first Grand Slam of the year.

Williams wasn't pleased with her two singles losses at the Hopman Cup team event in Perth, including in straight sets to Canadian Eugenie Bouchard, but said Saturday there is "a little light at the end of the tunnel."

"I'm never really happy about my practice or preparation," the top-seeded Williams said Saturday. "So maybe that's a good sign. I definitely feel better now than I did a couple weeks ago. But every day I can see something coming through."

Second-seeded Sharapova said although she played well at Brisbane and had a "tough" final against Ana Ivanovic, "every week's a surprise."

"You can't be overly negative; you can't be overly positive," Sharapova said Saturday. "I wanted to start off well. I thought I did many things well. But I'm not going into next week throwing flowers at myself or anything. I'm starting from scratch. I'm hungry. I'm determined to do better."

Sharapova, last year's French Open winner and the 2008 champion at Melbourne Park, lost in the fourth round here to Dominika Cibulkova last year, saying she was affected by a hip injury.

Williams also exited last year in the fourth round, losing to Ivanovic.

"Last year I felt really good, was playing well ... feeling amazing on the court," Williams said. "This year I feel a little off. But I feel off in every Grand Slam. Last year, that didn't work out for me, so maybe this is different."

Williams will play Alison Van Uytvanck of Belgium in the first round — "I heard her first name was Alison," Williams said, preferring not to try to pronounce her opponent's last name.

Sharapova has drawn an as-yet undetermined qualifier, as has Ivanovic. The two could meet in the semifinals of their half of the draw, while Williams could meet Cibulkova or close friend Caroline Wozniacki en route to a semifinal possibly against Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova or sixth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska.

Ivanovic, the 2008 French Open winner who won four singles titles last year to move back into the top five, said she's confident coming into Melbourne Park. She and Sharapova will play their first matches Monday.

"I really felt I made big steps towards winning more matches, beating top players," Ivanovic said of her 2014 season. "These kinds of things you sort of have to have in place in order to do well at the big events. I feel like I'm ready for the next step."

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