Williams reaches final at first try

Tennis
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The Independent Online
The 17-year-old Venus Williams will mark her debut at the United States Open tomorrow by contesting the women's singles final with Martina Hingis, who is her junior by three months. Williams, only the second unseeded finalist, saved two match points before defeating Romania's Irina Spirlea on her own second match point, 7-6, 4-6, 7-6.

Williams deserved to continue her astonishing progress here at Flushing Meadow yesterday, not least because Spirlea was profligate with her many opportunities to take control of the match. The 23-year-old Romanian, seeded No 11, frequently made eccentric shot selections, notably in coaxing dropshots either half-court, begging retaliation, or into the net.

The match was nothing if not competitive, and at one point it appeared to be on the verge of turning into a body contact sport. Williams had just held serve for 4-3 in the second set, after breaking back in the sixth game, when the players collided while walking back to their chairs at the change-over.

Whether or not the clash was accidental was difficult to tell. Spirlea gave a little smile towards her supporters in the players' box, perhaps to indicate that she was neither shaken nor stirred. One consequence of the incident was the unusual caption on television coverage by CBS, detailing "points since collision".

Spirlea had an opportunity to to win the opening set, but failed to convert a set point when leading 6-5 before the tie-break. The Romanian also had four break points at 1-1 in the final set, but Williams was allowed to escape once more. The American broke for 5-3, only to be broken back when serving for the match. In the tie-break, when Spirlea took a 4-2 lead, it seemed that her greater experience would take her to the final, but it was not that type of match, and the outcome remained in doubt until Spirlea hit a backhand wide on the concluding point to lose the shoot- out 7-9.

Pam Shriver, in 1978, was the last debutante to reach the final here. Seeded No 16, she was defeated in straight sets by her American compatriot Chris Evert, the second send.

Hingis advanced to her fourth consecutive Grand Slam singles final with a 6-2, 6-4 victory against Lindsay Davenport, the Californian No 6 seed. The 16-year-old Swiss has only lost one match in the major championships this year, against Iva Majoli in the French Open final.

Davenport is the only other player to have beaten Hingis, halting the world No 1 in three sets in the semi-final of an WTA Tour tournament at Manhattan Beach, California last month.

Although Davenport managed to break in the opening game of each set, she was unable to hold in seven of her nine service game. This was partly because the American's deliveries still do not reflect her physique, but chiefly because Hingis was able to deceive her with the variety of her shots.

Pat Rafter laughed when reminded that the consensus among players he has eliminated en route to the men's semi-finals - Andre Agassi included - ran along the lines that he was good, but unlikely to win the title. "I have a one-in-four chance of winning, that's the way I look at it," the 24-year-old Australian said. "I've also heard that I'm going to win it too, from a lot of other people. I prefer to be an underdog, it's always easier."

Michael Chang, Rafter's opponent today, is the only survivor who was regarded as a favourite from the outset. And even the American No 2 seed was rated a long way behind his compatriot Pete Sampras, who beat him in straight sets in last year's final. With Sampras gone, the 25-year- old Chang would appear to be only a handful of steady sets away from adding to the French Open title he won as a 17-year-old in 1989.

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