Tennis: Williams wears down Hingis

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The Independent Online
VENUS WILLIAMS displayed courage and stamina to match her athleticism yesterday here, overcoming Martina Hingis to advance to the final of the Lipton Championships and avenge her younger sister Serena's agonising defeat by the Swiss world No 1 in the quarter-finals.

Venus, like Serena, failed to convert match points against the Wimbledon champion - three when serving for the match after 67 minutes at 5-3 in the second set - but recovered her composure to dominate the third set, delivering a winning forehand drive on her fourth match point, 51 minutes later, to prevail, 6-2, 5-7, 6-2.

It was Venus Williams' second victory in six matches against Hingis and guarantees her a place in the world's top 10 when the new rankings are released next Monday. Their first meeting, as 16-year-olds, was at this tournament last year. Hingis, the winner in straight sets, was about to become No 1, Williams was on the rise in the top 200.

The intelligence of Williams' play has improved beyond recognition since Hingis outsmarted her in last year's United States Open final, 6-0, 6- 4. Most impressive yesterday was the way she held her nerve after overpowering Hingis without being able to finish the contest in two sets.

Two days earlier, Serena Williams had two match points against Hingis before losing in a third set tie-break. "Even though you miss opportunities, they always come again," Venus said. "You just have to create them. Serena gave me one pointer that really helped me, which I will not disclose to you all for fear that it will appear in the papers and over television.''

Jeff Tarango might have reduced Andre Agassi to tears on a tennis court when they were children, but there was no prospect of a repeat performance yesterday when the Las Vegan advanced to the semi- finals with a 6-4, 6-3 win over the turbulent Californian. Tarango showed the odd sign of edginess over one or two of the calls, but Agassi's barrage of groundstrokes muted any serious protests as he continued his climb from the nether rankings

Britain's Tim Henman tends to keep the best of company on the practice courts as well as on the match courts. His hitting partners number Stefan Edberg (at London's Queen's Club), Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Goran Ivanisevic and Marcelo Rios, the world No 1 elect, who today stands between Henman and a place in Sunday's men's final of the biggest tournament outside the four Grand Slams.

Should Rios advance to win the title here, he would supplant Pete Sampras at the head of the game, becoming only the 14th No 1 since the ATP rankings began in 1973, and the second to reach the summit without having a Grand Slam championship on his CV (Ivan Lendl rose to No 1 in 1983, a year before opening his Grand Slam account at French Open).

There are those who would argue that Rios is not good company, on the court or off it - Sports Illustrated marked Oscars week by nominating him as "The Most Hated Man in Tennis" and reporters covering the French Open have awarded him the Prix Citron ("Lemon Prize") for non-cooperation for the past two years - but he is idolised in Chile and can look forward to passionate support from local Hispanics the moment he steps on the Centre Court today.

Familiar though Henman is with Rios's warm-up shots, competing against the 22-year-old Chilean will be a new experience.However, back to back wins this week against two current Grand Slam champions, Petr Korda and Gustavo Kuerten, underlined Henman's ability to raise his game against quality opposition, just as he did when playing Pat Rafter, the United States Open champion, in the semi- finals in Sydney in January.

Although Rios's talent with a racket is unquestionable, he suffered a major psychological let-down when playing Korda in the Australian Open final. "It was his nerves," explained his coach, the American Larry Stefanki, a former adviser to John McEnroe. "Marcelo's feet didn't move, and with him, movement is everything."