Williams' power proves decisive

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The Independent Online

It was business as usual for Anna Kournikova yesterday. The 20-year-old Russian marked up her 102nd singles defeat in professional events, excluding the Olympics and the Fed Cup, having been beaten by Venus Williams for the seventh time in a row.

But there was a smile on Kournikova's face and a spring in her step as she left the Centre Court after the second round at the Dubai Duty Free Open and her thoughts turned towards her next campaign for that elusive first singles title in Acapulco next week.

Losing to Williams, who will be the world No 1 by the time Kournikova touches down in Mexico, was not so bad, and at least she had made a fight of the second set before succumbing 6-2, 7-6 after 69 minutes.

On the positive side, her troublesome left foot, which put her out of the game for eight months last year and almost caused her to retire during her first-round match against Salima Sfar, of Tunisia, on Tuesday night, was sore but did not stop her scurrying about the court running down Williams' shots.

"I'm pretty happy with my play," Kournikova said. "It's not like I'm going to come back after being out so long and start beating the top players, but I am getting better, and the good thing is I'm going for my shots in these big matches."

Williams, who defeated Kournikova, 7-5, 6-0, en route to the Antwerp title last week and has only twice dropped sets to her, did not look in the best of health herself yesterday. She appeared on court with a strapped left thigh and a plaster on her left knee, evidence of the wear and tear of seven consecutive weeks on the Tour. But appearances can be deceptive, and Williams, although disappointed with her first serve and some of her returns, managed to hit the ball hard and true when it came to the crucial points.

"The first three weeks I'll be at home in bed," Williams said when asked how she intended to mark her rise to the summit of the game. "I'm definitely going to make the most of it."

Williams, who had a bye in the first round, capitalised on Kournikova's erratic serving to break in the third game of the opening set yesterday, only to double-fault twice herself to be pulled back to 2-2. Kournikova fended off two break points in the fifth game, but missed a backhand on the third. Williams saved a break point in the next game and a Kournikova double-fault gifted her a 5-2 lead.

The Russian, while lacking her opponent's power, matched Williams shot for shot in the majority of the rallies in the second set, in which neither player created a break point en route to the tie-break. Kournikova double-faulted on the first point of the shoot-out and trailed 0-4 before Williams missed a shot. Kournikova recovered to 5-3, but was unable to prevent Williams from securing the concluding two points.

Weary on not, Williams treated the crowd to one of her Wimbledon victory twirls.