Aussie officials expecting Serena Williams to defend title

MELBOURNE, Australia — Australian Open officials are hopeful Serena Williams will make her competitive comeback to tennis next January to defend her title at Melbourne Park.

At a news conference Tuesday called to announce an increase in prize money for the year's first major, tournament director Craig Tiley said Williams was planning on playing the Jan. 15-28 Australian Open.

Williams was pregnant last January when she beat her sister Venus in the final. Serena gave birth to a daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., on Sept. 1 and has previously said she plans to return to playing in 2018.

If that's in Melbourne, she'll be competing for more money.

The tournament's overall prize pool will increase be 55 million Australian dollars ($42.7 million), and the men's and women's singles champions will earn $A4 million (about $3.1 million depending on exchange rates), an increase of 20 percent.

Tiley said Williams was back in training to defend her title.

"Serena will be back," Tiley was quoted as saying. "We look forward to welcoming her and again go on that journey of breaking the all-time record for the most number of Grand Slams."

Williams has won 23 Grand Slam singles titles, one more than Steffi Graf for the Open-era record. Australian Margaret Court is the all-time leader with 24.

In the men's field, Tiley confirmed six-time winner Novak Djokovic and fellow former world No. 1 Andy Murray, who have both had injuries this year, would play in Melbourne 2018 along with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who contested a classic final last January.

"I've been in contact with all the top players and am pleased to announce we'll have the full top 100 men and women returning to the Australian Open," Tiley said.

The women's singles trophy will be presented by Billie Jean King, 50 years after she won her first Australian Open title.

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