Serena seeks place on men's tour

GIRLS WILL be boys. Margaret McGregor is in training to trade punches with a man, Loi Chow, in Washington State; Muhammad Ali's daughter, Laila, makes her professional boxing debut tonight, and Serena Williams, the US Open women's singles champion, wants to play tennis on the men's professional tour.

GIRLS WILL be boys. Margaret McGregor is in training to trade punches with a man, Loi Chow, in Washington State; Muhammad Ali's daughter, Laila, makes her professional boxing debut tonight, and Serena Williams, the US Open women's singles champion, wants to play tennis on the men's professional tour.

"Women's tennis is boring. I can beat the men," claimed Williams, 18, who has asked for a wild card entry for the $2.45m (£1.53m) Eurocard Open in Stuttgart on 25 October, one of the nine elite tournaments on the men's circuit.

Boris Becker described Serena's request as "a pretty good joke". The three-times Wimbledon champion said: "If that's the case, and she is going to play, lots of men will go the other way and ask for wild cards into women's competitions, and you will see some strange winners of women's Grand Slams.

"I doubt it very much if Serena could compete with the men. She is very masculine and very strong, but if you compare her game to the likes of Pete Sampras or Andre Agassi in all honesty you are talking about two different sports."

Markus Gunthardt, tournament director of the Eurocard Open, said Williams, No 4 in the women's world rankings, would be included in the draw if the ATP Tour gave its approval to a man-versus-woman match.

Graeme Agars, the ATP Tour's vice-president of communications, spotted a snag. "As much as every guy would love to play Serena in the first round, technically it's not possible," he said. "The ATP Tour is the official circuit of men's professional tennis tournaments. Unless Serena can qualify for the key word - men's - there is a technical problem."

An ATP Tour spokesman later seemed to rule any possibility of Williams application succeeding: "She would have to be a member of the ATP to take part in an ATP tournament. But Serena Williams can't be a member of the ATP because she is a woman."

During the 1998 Australian Open, Serena and her older sister, Venus, boasted that they could beat any man ranked outside the world's top 200. Karsten Braasch, a German ranked No 203 (his highest ranking was No 38), accepted the challenge. Braasch, who was already out of the tournament, played a round of golf in the morning, drank a couple of beers, smoked a few cigarettes, and then played the Williams sisters for a set each, one after the other. He defeated Serena, 6-1, and Venus, 6-2.

Mixed singles are not unique. In the 1973 "Battle of the Sexes", Billie Jean King, 29, defeated the 55-year-old Bobby Riggs, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, for a winner-take-all purse of $100,00. The largest crowd ever to watch a single tennis match - 30,472 - appeared at the Houston Astrodome and an estimated 50 million watched on television.

Riggs, winner of the Wimbledon men's singles title in 1939, had beaten Margaret Court earlier in the year. The Australian, who had accomplished the Grand Slam in 1970, agreed to play Riggs in a nationally televised challenge match in the California resort of Ramona in May 1973. Court, badly affected by nerves, was swept aside by Riggs, 6-2. 6-1.

King "went bananas" on hearing the score and considered that Court had betrayed the cause of women's professional tennis at a crucial stage in its development. "Things had gotten out of control," King recalled. "I had to play Riggs."

On 25 September 1992, Martina Navratilova, 36, played Jimmy Connors, 40, at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas. Navratilova lost, 7-5, 6-2, in spite of being allowed two serves to her opponent's one and hitting into a court four feet wider.

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