Seated in the front row of the stadium, just above the usual suspects in photographers' alley, Richard Williams snapped more shots of the Nasdaq-100 Open women's singles final than his daughter, Serena, and her opponent, Jennifer Capriati, made unforced errors. Those totalled 97 (59 by Serena) which shows how focused the Williams patriarch was as he brought a whole new meaning to flash photography.
His lens was trained almost exclusively on Serena, who succeeded her older sister, Venus, in winning the title with a 7-5, 7-6 victory. The new champion was asked if she heard the constant click of her father's shutter. "No," she replied, laughing, "I guess I was pretty focused on the court. I didn't even see him with his camera today."
Her oversight could be forgiven. She evidently found it hard enough to read the trajectory of the ball without being distracted by a David Ashdown wannabe. Capriati's errors were fewer, but more costly. For the second final in a row here, the 26-year-old world No 1 faltered against one of the Williams sisters when it came to converting the big points.
A year ago, Capriati failed to nail any of eight match points against Venus Williams, who went on to win on her fourth match point. Against Serena on Saturday, Capriati failed to serve out the first set at 5-4, and was broken twice when serving for the second set, at 5-4 and 6-5. She created two set points with Williams serving at 3-5, and five more on her own serve in the 12th game. Williams went on to win the tie-break, 7-4, on the first match point.
"I feel like I was kind of ahead, and pretty much in control the whole match, so it's a little disappointing," Capriati said, a line reminiscent of a prize fighter talking about leading on points before being knocked out. Capriati has bounced back off the ropes often enough herself – notably in saving four match points before defeating Martina Hingis at the Australian Open – to know better than to let a groggy opponent off the hook.
The fact that Williams had flexed her considerable muscles with back-to-back wins against Martina Hingis and big sis' Venus was sufficient warning that she was too dangerous to wound without being finished off.
"The hardest part about playing Serena is that it's difficulty to get a rhythm," Capriati said. "You just never know what's going to happen. It's not consistent. It's not like you can get into a real groove or anything. It's a few mistakes and then a few winners. Sometimes she's pushing the ball, sometimes she's hitting it really hard. The match was really close, and she played well on the important points. It's not like I gave it away. I think she really earned it."
Williams concurred. "I made the points that really mattered," she said. "Normally when I play Jennifer we go to three sets. After I won the first set, I was determined to try to close it out in two. It seemed like I couldn't move my feet for a while. Then it just came through for me in the end.
"Since I had beaten Venus, I felt it was my personal duty to take this title. But I played a little sloppy today – 59 errors, that is unbelievable – so there's room for improvement."
Only Serena's socks were consistent, as she explained: "I have a pair of socks that I've been wearing every match. I've never lost a match in these socks. I wore them against Venus. I didn't wear them at the US Open, though – I couldn't find them. But I have found them. They're a little bit dirty. I'll wash them after the tournament's over."
As Williams and Capriati were trading shots on the Stadium Court, one of the brightest junior prospects in the women's game was on an outside court, continuing to build her reputation. Maria Sharapova, a 14-year-old Russian, seeded No 4, won the girls' singles final, defeating the top seed, Gisella Dulko, of Argentina, 7-6, 6-7, 7-5.
Sharapova, whose participation in the main draw of WTA tournaments is restricted because of her age, was given a wild card for the recent event in Indian Wells and won her first-round match against Brie Rippner, an experienced American, before losing to Monica Seles.
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