Tennis: Venus rises to put Serena in shade

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The Independent Online
THE MOST nervous spectator at the women's singles final between the teenaged Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, at the Lipton Championships yesterday - won 6-1, 4-6, 6-4 by Venus - was their father and mentor, Richard. "I'm shaking," he said. "After doing all the planning, I learned I'm not ready for it. When I think about where we came from, out of the ghetto, to where we are right now, my only hope in watching my babies is that I don't cry."

Everybody else packing the 14,000-seat Stadium Court was intrigued to be present at the first high-level final between sisters since Maud Watson defeated Lillian Watson, 6-8, 6-3, 6-3, when women first played at Wimbledon in 1884.

Richard Williams was sure that Venus, the 18-year-old defending Lipton champion, and the 17-year-old Serena, seeded No 16 and the winner of her previous 16 matches, incorporating the titles at the Paris Open and the Evert Cup, were ready to rumble. "I think they're saying: 'I'm going to come out there and I'm going to hit the ball, sister. You better be ready'."

Yesterday's see-saw final was further indication of how the women's game has gained strength and is enjoying the spotlight; the women's doubles final on Saturday was a cracker, with Martina Hingis and Jana Novotna defeating Mary Joe Fernandez and Monica Seles, 18-16 in the third set tie-break.

Yesterday Venus swept through the opening set, winning it 6-1, before Serena struck back to square the match 6-4. The older sister broke early in the final stanza, but let the advantage slip as things levelled at 4-4. A break for Venus in the ninth game left her serving for the match.

Filed away under "Things they wish they hadn't said" is Richard Krajicek's infamous observation during Wimbledon 1992 that the majority of female tennis players were "lazy, fat pigs", which swiftly brought home to the young Dutchman the truth in the adage that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

The personable Krajicek may never live the unfortunate remark down, especially since the media are not slow to remind him about it. Having won the men's title on Saturday, defeating Sebastien Grosjean, the talented and spirited French prospect, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 7-5, in spite of feeling unwell, Krajicek was asked if he thought his insult had motivated the women's game.

"I don't known if I motivated them with any statments I made in the past," he said. "It was almost seven years ago. The fact is that women's tennis is very interesting at the moment. They have a good- looking player like Anna Kournikova; they have a very talented player with Hingis; they've got two sisters who are also African American, which also is special in tennis. They have a lot of personalities. The attention has gone to them.

"I think we [in the men's game] also have a lot of different personalities. We have Pete Sampras, who is almost a living legend already; Pat Rafter, who is the good-looking one you can compare, maybe, with Kournikova in a way. But I respect the women's game, and they get all the attention they deserve. Two, three, four years ago, I know they were really struggling big time. They've really come out of it.

"I think it's a very healthy tour. They're very successful. In the end, I see it as something positive, because it's also going to help the men's game."

Krajicek's daughter, Emma, has a mind of her own, as she showed during her first birthday party last Friday. Krajicek and his partner, Daphne Deckers, bought a cream cake and planned to take some amusing photographs, but Emma would not play.

"We were hoping she would go with both hands and put her face in the cake, but we taught her too many manners. She was taking little pieces out of the whipped cream," he said.

Although Krajicek did not polish off the remainder of the cake, he was feeling queasy during the final, and was relieved to halt Grosjean's challenge after the short, sharp Frenchman held a set-point with Krajicek serving at 4-5 in the fourth set. "Luckily I still have my serve," he said. "I'm just happy it didn't go to a fifth.

"Since Thursday morning, I haven't had a good meal, so I didn't have enough food in me to feel really strong. I was struggling with recuperation. That's why I was picking my points. On 30-all I would run, but on the first point in the game, if the ball would be too far away, I let it go."

Krajicek, like the spectators, was impressed with Grosjean, whose peformance in reaching his first ATP Tour final will lift his world ranking today from No 74 to No 45.