Tennis: Williams sisters looking so good

VENUS WILLIAMS sniffled, and the United States Open organisers reacted as if there was an outbreak of pneumonia. Their phobia is understandable, given that injuries have claimed Pete Sampras and Pat Rafter, plus the fact that a flu virus prevented Venus's younger sister, Serena, from travelling to Wimbledon.

"I'm okay," Venus assured reporters, having advanced to the third round of the women's singles with a 6-4, 6-3 win against Anne-Gaelle Sidot, of France. Serena looked in the rudest of health yesterday in defeating the promising Jelena Kostanic, a Croatian qualifier, 6-4, 6-2.

Venus, emphasising that it takes more than something as common as a cold to put her off her strokes, said: "I played the whole of the Lipton with a cold. I've had experience playing being a little bit sick."

At the Lipton Championships in Florida in March, it may be remembered, Venus won the women's singles title, defeating Serena in the final. The possibility of the sister act being repeated here tomorrow week is not to be sneezed at. After all, their father, Richard Williams, has decreed it.

Cue for a spot of stirring in the interview room. Martina Hingis, the top seed, was asked if such predictions served to motivate her. "He always has a big mouth," Hingis said, momentarily forgetting her recent media training. "He always talks a lot. It happened before. It's going to happen again. So I don't really worry about that." Hingis is projected to play Venus Williams in the semi-finals.

Monica Seles, the No 4 seed, may encounter Serena Williams in the quarter- finals. Seles, the champion in 1991 and 1992, has made a brisk start, winning her opening two matches without dropping a set. Yesteday Seles defeated Italy's Silvia Farina 6-2, 6-3.

Frankly, Seles has no time for rivalry hype. "I just hate the whole thought that one is better than the other," she said. "It drives me nuts."

So how did she develop the killer instinct to win nine Grand Slam singles titles? "It's survival out there," Seles said. "If I don't, then the other person will, so you go into that automatic mode that you have no choice."

Seles confessed that she would rather be on the practice court than the centre court. "I truly just love to hit," she said. "I really never enjoyed playing matches, even as a youngster. I just loved to practise and drill and that stuff."

Richard Krajicek, the 1996 Wimbledon champion, seeded No 12 here, relished the opportunity to make amends against the man who eliminated him in five sets in the third round at the All England Club two months ago. Krajicek dispatched the 121st ranked Lorenzo Manta, a Swiss qualifier, 6-2, 6-4, 6-1.

Competitors tend to view Grand Slam events as two tournaments stitched together. "The key for me," Greg Rusedski said, "is getting to that second week." The British No 2 smiled before adding: "The last two Slams I've played, I've got to the second week, but I haven't done anything in the second week. If I can get to the second week here, hopefully I can do something about that."

Should Rusedski win his next two matches, he will mark his 26th birthday on Monday as a contender for the title, having justified himself over the Labor Day weekend. Today, Rusedski will endeavour to reach the third round in a meeting with David Prinosil, a 26-year-old German, ranked No 56.

Rusedski won the last of their three previous matches in four sets on a slow clay court in the first round of the French Open in June, having split the other contests on concrete courts. "We always have very close matches," Rusedski said. "It will be another good test."

Asked if it bothered him that the average fan might not remember that he played in the final two years ago, Rusedski said: "Who remembers who gets to the finals? They only remember who wins. The only way to rectify that is to win."

n Neil Broad, Miles Maclagan and Jamie Delgado will join Tim Henman and Rusedski in the Britain team to play South Africa in the Davis Cup World Group relegation play-off at Birmingham's National Indoor Arena from 24- 26 September. The South Africans will be without Wayne Ferreira, whose wife is expecting a child, and Marcos Ondruska, who has asked to be excused due to loss of form.

Results, Digest, page 27