Tennis: Williams grows on grass but skips green party

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Four days into her new career as a grass-court exponent, Venus Williams is busily accumulating a series of firsts. At the Direct Line Championships here yesterday, she accounted for Chanda Rubin to claim her inaugural victory in a main draw on the alien green surface.

Ordinarily, it would have been just cause for a healthy teenager to let down her hair and paint the town red by way of celebrating her 17th birthday. Unlike other prodigies who have attempted to make their spectacular way in the game with scarcely an acknowledgement of the world outside the courts, Williams, thankfully, is a healthy teenager with other interests and alternative pursuits. But parties are out. She revealed herself yesterday to be a Jehovah's Witness, for whom there is no such occasion as a birthday party.

"It's my religion and that's all I know," said the youngster who offered the Centre Court gathering evidence of the power and athleticism that are a major starting point in her attempt to rival Martina Hingis as the next superior being in the women's game.

Williams won 6-4, 6-4 against a fellow American ranked 53 places above her at No 26. "Surely you celebrate your victories," someone pressed.

"Not really, I've got to play again tomorrow," was the reply from the youngster who is making her first visit to England.

At 6ft 2in and dressed in silver-grey with beaded dreadlocks, Miss Williams certainly cuts a striking figure. She grunts rather loudly - too loudly for Disgusted of Eastbourne who remarked that she was worse than that other noise-bag, Monica Seles - and her every thumping shot provokes a rustling of the beads akin to a man fingering the loose change in his pocket.

Rubin threatened first, but Williams, who played her first match on grass as far back as last weekend, quickly asserted her authority, absorbing a second break of her service before reeling off three successive games to take the first set.

Two service breaks were enough in the second as Rubin's game fell away badly. Next up for the birthday girl from Los Angeles is a second-round meeting with Nathalie Tauziat, who put out the fifth seeded Mary Joe Fernandez.

"I am learning to come to the net more," Williams added. "I never serve and volley as much as I do on grass so this is really going to help my game a lot."

Seles, the No 1 seed, plays her first match today, but there are no second- round exertions for the trio of British entrants who all departed from the tournament yesterday.

Lucie Ahl and Jo Ward respectively lost in straight sets to the highly ranked French girl, Anne-Gaelle Sidot, and Japan's Naoko Sawamatsu, who now has to face Seles.

But Shirli-Ann Siddall staged a fighting recovery to peg back another Japanese opponent, Ai Sugiyama, before going down 8-6 in the final set.