Questions remain despite good start

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Venus Williams re-emerged looking really good on Tuesday at the Australian Open, almost as if she hadn't missed nearly seven months of play while recovering from an injury.

Her footwork was just a little slow on a couple of things. She hit only a couple of wild forehands, and on her serve, she kept the double faults within check.

Against a dangerous floater like Ashley Harkleroad, Venus should be ecstatic after this win. She should be less happy with almost turning her ankle on the Rebound Ace surface that turns sticky in the heat. If she hadn't caught herself, keeping her full weight off her foot, it could have been serious -- as Carlos Moya found out when he was forced to withdraw from the tournament after turning his ankle in a tuneup.

Given what Venus has been through in seven months, this match really couldn't have been better for her. It shows that exhibition events like the one in Hong Kong do pay dividends. She went there and played two quality matches and then put in a week of hard practice in Australia. It turned out to be really good preparation.

Some of the questions about her are now answered. She can be a contender. She's not like most players who might feel they can't play after months off. She doesn't have that problem. And any competitive cobwebs she might have had in her head seem to have been left in Asia.

Now, if healthy, she's right in the thick of it with Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters. Venus could go into the second week as co-favorite with Henin-Hardenne.

On a cautionary note, getting this excited after one match back is a little early. It will take three or four matches to get a better feel for how Venus is doing. How she reacts if she's in a close set, serving at 4-all, love 30. There are still enough questions left out there to make it interesting.

ESPN tennis analyst Pam Shriver won 21 singles and 112 doubles crowns, including 22 Grand Slam titles.