Tennis: Dawn of the Williams dynasty

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The Independent Online
THE RUMBLES and flashes reverberating around Key Biscayne on Friday evening were nothing to do with the weather front passing through, just the Williams sisters riding into town.

History has been fashioned with the arrival of Venus and Serena Williams in the final of the Lipton Championships. Modern-era history, at least, the first family final since Maud and Lilian Watson contested Wimbledon back in 1884.

Richard Williams, father, mentor and coach, promises to turn up at the final this afternoon wearing a T-shirt bearing the message "I told you so". He is entitled to. Suddenly women's tennis has been refashioned after Serena overturned the world No 1 Martina Hingis 6-4 7-6 and then Venus crushed Steffi Graf 6-2 6-4.

It was not just the fact of the wins, but the manner of them. Serena, the baby of the family at 17, gave Hingis a 4-0 lead before assembling her formidable firepower to reel off eight straight games. It was Serena's 16th win on the trot and another today over her big sister will mean three titles in successive tournaments.

After a week in which she had struggled with indifferent form and a bad cold, Venus was magnificent against Graf, a five-time winner of this title. The 29-year-old German was nicknamed Fraulein Forehand in America but in a dramatic 78-minute semi-final Venus took the measure of, and then destroyed, Steffi with her ability to run down every shot and return it with added venom.

Suddenly Steffi's forehand was not the fiercest one out there and her backhand, always a cramped, crabbed stroke, was exposed as embarrassingly inadequate. Venus is the defending champion at the Lipton so the mere result was not a shock. But the style of it certainly was, just as markedly as Serena's swatting aside of Hingis. As the last crunching backhand sped down the line past Graf's flailing racket Venus pointed a finger at Serena sitting in the stands and made a "you and me" sign.

The Williams girls have needed to be thick-skinned as well as talented in their ascent through the rankings. Tennis in America remains largely a sport for well-off whites and spectator support for anybody on the other side of the net from a Williams has been cringe- making. Venus and Serena have sailed above it, having been meticulously prepared for the big-time by dad.

Richard Williams has also coached his daughters in countering prejudice with arrogance, something which has diminished their popularity with fellow professionals and the fans. Too bad, is what the Williams family say. Their time is now. As Venus said after the Graf match, "A new era has arrived this week in women's tennis."

The Williams family home is 90 miles from the Lipton site and it is there that the trophy is certain to repose. Venus is favourite, since she holds two tour victories over Serena at the Australian and Italian Opens. Another indicator in Venus's favour is the rankings; she is sixth and Serena 16th.

Having lost to each of the girls in successive tournaments, Graf is well qualified to offer a prediction. Here it is: "Serena is serving a little better and returning a little more aggressively. That's probably the key."