Tennis: Williams ready to blow hot

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The Independent Online
GIVEN THE tornado at the United States Open the other day, it seemed odd that Venus Williams should be told that last year she made it to the women's singles final "in something of a whirlwind".

Having advanced to the quarter-finals after Monday's violent storm had interrupted her match against Mary Pierce, the 18-year-old American is next due to play the No 4 seed, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, who eliminated Anna Kournikova, 7-6, 6-3.

It is hard to imagine that four years have flashed by since Williams made her professional debut against Sanchez-Vicario at a tournament in Oakland, California. More a rumour than a prodigy, having been sheltered from junior competition, Williams amazed the spectators by taking a 6- 2, 3-0 lead against the Spaniard, who recovered to win, 2-6, 6-3, 6-0. Sanchez-Vicario also won their two subsequent matches this year, beating Williams at Sydney, 6-1, 6-3, and Rome, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5.

Kournikova, 17, had won her three previous contests against Sanchez-Vicario. The Russian, who missed Wimbledon after hurting a thumb while defeating Steffi Graf at Eastbourne, is short of her best form.

Sanchez-Vicario, asked if there was a "revenge factor" to her win against one of the younger generation, said: "No, I don't think I have anything to prove. I don't take it as revenge at all. My motivation is the Grand Slams. That's where I'm looking to play well."

The 26-year-old from Barcelona added that she tries to take advantage of being considered an outsider rather than a favourite, in spite of her ranking. "There is no pressure on me at all, and I can go and play my tennis," she said, recalling how she had won the title from Steffi Graf in 1994. "I'm probably in the same situation. I was not the favourite to win in '94. I sneak around and do well. Obviously, I won in a very tough match in the final. I think I'm a better player right now than I was in '94. I have much more experience and have improved my game. I'm happy the way things are going."

Kournikova acknowledged that she needs to be sharper if she is to overcome Sanchez-Vicario in a major championship. "I didn't play the best my of my life, but she didn't make any mistakes," the No 15 said. "Hopefully, I will get good experience from this match. I think I should have attacked more and just played my game."

Always one to dash about, Sanchez-Vicario has inserted a hyphen in her name. The former world No 1 is now legally Sanchez-Vicario, having made the change to protect the rights of any children she may have.

The unmarried Sanchez-Vicario took the decision on the eve of the United States Open after a baby born within her family was only allowed to take the name of the father. The hyphen will give any child of Arantxa's the option of adding Sanchez-Vicario after the father's name.

Plain Sanchez before winning her first Grand Slam title at the French Open in 1989, Arantxa then decided to add Vicario, her mother's maiden name, emphasising that there was no hyphen. The latest change has been received with mixed reactions. "Oh, God, it's ruined all my books," said the BBC commentator, John Barrett, who edits ITF World of Tennis.

Sanchez-Vicario is to receive Spain's highest award, the "Principe de Asturias", having beaten Michael Jordan by 10 votes in the sports category. She is only the third woman athlete to receive the award.

Lindsay Davenport, the No 2 seed, is trying to get used to being among the favourites. "It's not like everyone is writing, `Lindsay is going to win'," the 22-year-old American said as she prepared to meet the South African No 13 seed, Amanda Coetzer, in the quarters-finals. "I don't feel as much pressure here this year as, say, last year or the year before," she added, "because people are also expecting Venus to win, among others. Mentally, I am in the best shape I have been coming into a Grand Slam."

In 1996, Davenport failed to live up to expectations at the US Open, having arrived with a gold medal from the Atlanta Olympic Games. "Over the last two years I have learned how to win on days when you are not playing so well," she said.

"If you wake up in the morning and don't want to play, you are probably going to lose. Essentially it comes down to the player and how badly they want it. If my mom is dying for me to win a Grand Slam, it is not going to help me. I would love to win a Grand Slam, but I have always said if my career was to end I am not going to jump off a bridge."

Sweden's Thomas Johansson, who reached the fourth round due to Richard Krajicek's retirement, advanced to the quarter-finals, defeating the Russian, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the No 11 seed, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 7-6.