Sunday, June 09, 2002

Serena 'one-hit wonder' no more

Take that, Big Sis! Serena Williams beats Venus for French Open title

AP Tennis Writer

Serena Williams poses with the cup at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris Saturday after winning the women's French Open.
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
        PARIS — The French Open was hers, no more shots to chase or winners to produce. Still, Serena Williams didn't want to look her opponent in the eye.

        It's never easy to compete against your sister — or beat her.

        Tying their Sister Slam series at one title apiece, Serena stopped older sibling Venus 7-5, 6-3 Saturday at Roland Garros in a final that was far more competitive, if just as sloppy, as their championship match at the U.S. Open nine months ago.

        And although they combined for 101 unforced errors, 14 double faults and 13 service breaks, Venus thought the match was picture-perfect: She grabbed their mother's camera and joined the horde of photographers snapping shots of Serena holding the shimmering trophy.

        “Hopefully, we can build a rivalry and we'll be able to do this a lot,” said 20-year-old Serena, 15 months younger than Venus. “Make a legacy, then retire champions.”

        She collected her second Grand Slam title — the other was the family's first, at the 1999 U.S. Open. Venus won Wimbledon and the U.S. Open each of the past two years, meaning a Williams has captured six of the past 11 majors.

        “I didn't want to be a one-hit wonder,” Serena said. “I had to get it again.”

        In Monday's new rankings, Venus will be No. 1, and Serena No. 2, the first siblings to sit 1-2. That means they will be seeded Nos. 1 and 2 at tournaments, potentially setting up more finals, including at their next event: Wimbledon.

        They share the tour lead with four titles apiece in 2002, and their combined career earnings now top $17 million.

        After Venus sent one last groundstroke error into the net, Serena raised her arms, letting go of her racket, and bent over, hands on her knees. When the champion straightened up, she again raised her arms as she turned to her left to face the stands — and not her sister across the net.

        They then walked up to the net for a hug. Opponents no more, just family.

        After saluting the crowd in French, Serena switched to English to thank “Venus for supporting me all the way and just being the best sister in the whole world.”

        The agony of playing a sibling showed in their play: There were very few long rallies or well-constructed points; the momentum swings were many; both were tentative.

        “I was thinking when I was out there, 'Gosh, my Dad would be very upset at the way we're both playing right now,”' Serena said. “I was not mentally focused enough.”

        It's not easy to get into a groove when the person you're trying to bash is the person you eat with, travel with, shop with, and steal toothpaste from (Venus complained, laughing, that Serena had taken the tube from her Paris hotel room).

        Other than the cries of a baby in the stands, it was eerily quiet during stretches of the first set, as though spectators couldn't decide for whom to root. A few found a solution, yelling: “Allez, Ser-enus!”

        The sisters turned their backs to each other after most points, or would kick at the dirt, or play with the strings on their rackets, or adjust their dresses. Anything to avoid eye contact.

        And yet, there were also rare moments when this French Open final was just two sisters and pals swapping thwacks from opposite ends of a court.

        In the second game of the second set, Venus hit a forehand return that landed near the baseline and was called out. She took a step toward the net, then saw Serena raise her index finger to show the ball landed out — and that was good enough for her.

        Odds are, against any other opponent, Venus would have asked the chair umpire to check the mark.

        Serena has won their last two matches to improve to 3-5 against Venus. It was the first time in 11 Grand Slam matches between sisters in the Open Era that the younger one won. Take that, Big Sis!

        Most of the Williams' family faceoffs have been duds, including September's U.S. Open final, which Venus won 6-2, 6-4. That, of course, was the first Grand Slam title decided by siblings since the very first major tournament: 1884 Wimbledon, when Maud Watson beat little sister Lillian.

        “I just didn't make that last shot on each point, whether it was an approach shot or a volley,” said Venus, who hadn't dropped a set in six matches. “I was rushing.”

        After she broke to go up 5-3 at the start, Serena roared back, taking seven straight games to win the first set and take a 3-0 lead in the second.

        That run ended with one of four games that ended on double faults, and when Venus' serve sailed 3 feet long, Serena pumped her fist. The rare show of emotion was stifled quickly, though, and she looked away as she walked to the changeover.

        There were two critical points that went Serena's way.

        With Serena down 5-4 in the first set and serving, Venus hit a crosscourt forehand that hit the net tape and trickled on to her side. Had it gone over, she would have had set point. In the next game, two errors and a double fault by Venus gave Serena break point. Venus then handed over the game — and control of the match — by turning an easy sitter into a wild swinging forehand volley that flew wide.

        In the stands, their mother, Oracene, indicated the ball was out, one of the few times she didn't have her hands planted in her lap. Their father, Richard, who taught himself tennis so he could coach his daughters, didn't make the trip to France — choosing to stay home in Florida.

        At the 1999 U.S. Open, Venus watched the final from the courtside player's guest box with her parents, and when she saw her younger sister win she looked on sullenly, upset that she couldn't be out there.

        “I've never seen her that down before,” Serena said at the time.

        On Saturday, a very different Venus, towel draped on her shoulders and smile dancing on her face, giggled as she took photos of her sister on the victory podium.

        “She showed what she should show,” Oracene Williams said. “Integrity for the sport, for her sister, the family, and strength to know that it's just a game.”


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