Tennis: Peerless Hingis brushes Williams aside

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The startling maturity of Martina Hingis with a racket in her hand was evident to the 22,000 spectators in the Arthur Ashe Stadium here and millions watching on television as the 16-year-old world No 1 defeated Venus Williams, three months her senior, 6-0, 6-4, to win the United States Open title, writes John Roberts from New York.

But for falling off a horse and undergoing knee surgery six weeks before the French Open, it is possible that the young Swiss woman would have been celebrating a Grand Slam yesterday. Hingis had been denied in the final in Paris by fatigue and an inspired performance by Iva Majoli, of Croatia.

Conversely, it might be argued that the knee injury which ended Steffi Graf's season after the French Open denied Hingis the truest test of her skills both at Wimbledon and here at Flushing Meadow.

The one certainty is that none of her rivals looked capable of halting the Hingis during the past fortnight. How long that continues depends on her health and vitality and the development of her opponents.

Given that the combined ages of yesterday's protagonists was 33, the New York Times understandably previewed the match as "a phenomenal final". The billing proved way off the mark, as did so many of Williams's shots.

The longer the rallies, the smarter Hingis became, winning 6-0, 6-4 after 62 minutes to add the United States Open title to those she collected in Australia and at Wimbledon.

Williams, who had hoped to become the first unseeded champion in the history of the women's singles, was unable to fluster an opponent who had arrived in the final without dropping a set. Tall and athletic but still learning how best to utilise her skills, Williams was in trouble from the moment she hit a backhand over the baseline at 40-15 when serving in the opening game.

Hingis pounced immediately, and tormented the American thereafter with her superior court craft. Even when Williams managed to fend off six break points in the third game, she was so edgy that she double-faulted on the seventh. It was her third double fault in the game.

The first set was over in 23 minutes, in spite of the fact that many of the points were closely contested. The second set appeared about to go the same way until Williams saved two break points to hold in the opening game.

Although broken for 1-2, Williams stayed in the match by saving a break point in the fifth game and levelling to 4-4 with a forehand drive which Hingis returned to the net on the backhand.

No sooner had the crowd roared its approval of a contest in the making than Hingis closed it. She broke again for 5-4, and lost only one more point before converting the first match point with a serve and a forehand to the corner.

Williams was unstinting in her praise. "I don't think you could wish for a better winner," she said. "She's an all-round player. She's consistent. She has a lot of shots. She's doing real good this year. I just felt that I should have pulled my game together, maybe slow it down, do something a little bit different, cut down on my number of unforced errors."

The one thing Williams has proved she can do better than Hingis in recent days is to haul herself up the perimeter wall to embrace her mother in triumph. Yesterday it was Hingis's turn, and her mother, Melanie Molitor, had to reach down and help her. It was the only time Hingis had struggled throughout the tournament.

Jim Pierce, banned from tournaments for four years following his disruptive behaviour during matches involving his daughter, Mary, is on his way back. The WTA Tour has informed Pierce by letter that its board of directors has voted to lift the ban on a conditional basis for one year from November.

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