Williams earns presidential seal of approval

Venus ensures US Open women's title remains in the family after dispatching Davenport in straight sets on Saturday

"Should I read your lips?" Venus Williams asked Bill Clinton after the President told the newly crowned United States Open women's singles champion that he was in favour of a special tax bracket for athletes.

"Should I read your lips?" Venus Williams asked Bill Clinton after the President told the newly crowned United States Open women's singles champion that he was in favour of a special tax bracket for athletes.

The 20-year-old Williams, no respecter of reputations either on the court or off, impishly asked the President if he could lower her taxes after he telephoned to congratulate her on winning the title and to apologise for leaving Flushing Meadows before her rain-delayed women's final against Lindsay Davenport on Saturday evening because he had an appointment in Chappaqua. "I had to come home to have dinner with Hillary".

Williams, who defeated Davenport 6-4, 7-5, lives in Florida, along with her younger sister, Serena. Florida residents are exempt from state income tax, but pay federal tax and property tax. Venus complained about the size of their property tax.

Poor girls. Venus had not even had time to bank her winner's cheque for $800,000 (£550,000) increasing her career prize money to $6,579,477. And Serena, 19, with whom she shares a house in Palm Beach Gardens, had been unable to defend the title beyond the quarter-finals, and is stuck with $3,664,311. (Plus the countless millions the pair have made from endorsements.)

Resisting the temptation to tell Venus to take her tax gripe to Jeb Bush, Governor of Florida and brother of George W Bush, the Republican presidential candidate, Clinton complimented her on her game and invited her to the White House.

"I can't believe you put in two days like that back-to-back," he said. "You were in the zone."

"It was hard-fought, to say the least," Venus replied, and pointed out that the President had been in the zone, too. "We were stuck in the traffic on the road, and you whizzed through."

Williams has been in "the zone", impervious to opponents, for 26 consecutive matches. Her last defeat was in the quarter-finals of the French Open in June, when she lost to Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, the Spanish retriever, 6-0, 1-6, 6-2.

As at Wimbledon, Williams overcame the world's top-ranked players, Martina Hingis (No 1) and Davenport (No 2) in winning the title. Here, however, Davenport removed Serena from the possibility of another sisterly confrontation, which this time would have come in the final.

Davenport gave Serena no quarter in the quarters, serving and returning with the power and precision to determine that the dual would be based on hitting rather than running, and capitalising on Serena's errors and increasingly gloomy demeanour.

Similar tactics failed to faze Venus, partly because Davenport's serve lacked consistency, but chiefly because her opponent had begun to believe in her own invincibility.

Davenport did not lack chances, leading 4-1 in the first set and breaking for 2-1 in the second, but she converted only three of 15 break points, whereas Williams secured five of eight.

"I had been playing the wrong tennis," Williams said when asked about the opening five games of the match. "She was playing at a high level, but I think I was giving her exactly what she wanted. I sat down at 4-1 and said to myself: 'I can't feed her like this'. I was just giving her the spoon. So I had to change it."

Williams won the next six games (Davenport double-faulted on set point) and held to love in the opening game of the second set before Davenport confirmed that she was still on the court by delivering three successive aces and then returning well enough to force Williams to miss a backhand in losing the third game.

Davenport was again unable to press her advantage, Williams breaking back for 2-2, saving four break points in the next game and one more at 5-5. We were treated to a particularly memorable rally at 30-30 in the concluding game - Davenport netting a forehand - and the ball also crossed the net several times in the final point before Davenport hit a backhand over the baseline to lose serve, and the match, after 85 minutes.

Richard Williams, the patriarch who on Friday night had left the stand in the Arthur Ashe Stadium to change his flight tickets for an early departure after Venus missed a drop-shot when serving at 3-5, 15-0, in the final set of a monumental semi-final against Hingis, was now ready to rumble, or at least rumba.

Without a convenient commentary box roof on which to reprise his Wimbledon celebration, he was hugged and kissed by Venus, who led him down to the court for his victory dance.

"It's not a dance, really," Venus chided reporters. "I don't know why you all say it's a dance. He was just jumping." With a piece of the family silver about to pass from one daughter's hands to another, he had plenty to jump about.

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