Sunday, January 26, 2003

It's same old story for Serena

Beats sister Venus in Grand Slam singles final for fourth straight time

The Associated Press

MELBOURNE, Australia - Serena Williams has said all along that she's the perfectionist in the family. Now she has a perfect set of trophies from the last four major tennis tournaments.

Williams completed her "Serena Slam" by defeating older sister Venus at the Australian Open, 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-4 early Saturday. Serena has beaten Venus in the final of the last four majors.

The match was filled with mistakes, and Serena committed 54 errors, compared with 51 for Venus. Serena slammed down her racket after a few of the more serious miscues, and she berated a line judge even after winning a key point.

"I think she just about had me," Serena said of her sister. "I just wanted to win so bad."

Serena missed last year's Australian Open with an injury, ruining her shot at becoming the first player since Steffi Graf in 1988 to win a true Grand Slam - all four majors in the same calendar year.

But after winning last year's French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles, and now the Australian, Serena joins an elite group of players who have held all four major titles at once; the others are Maureen Connolly, Margaret Court, Martina Navratilova and Graf. Connolly and Court won all four in the same year.

"I just can't believe I can now be compared to these women," Serena said. "They're such greats, and I don't know if I'll accomplish everything they have. But to even be in the category of winning four in a row is, for me, really amazing. It's something I've always dreamed of and wanted to do."

What's next?

"I'm just going to keep fighting, keep working hard and keep smiling," Serena said.

Venus, who trails her sister 5-4 in major titles won, said she's more motivated than ever.

"I don't want to be the player that won four Grand Slams, whether she wins five or 15," said Venus, who has won Wimbledon and the U.S. Open twice each. "When you look at the great players who have won 20 and all those kinds of numbers, I still have a long way to go - and not much time."

Venus turns 23 in June; Serena will be 22 in September.

Errors cost Serena two service games in the first set. After she netted a forehand with Venus out of position, leaving herself at 4-5, she tossed her racket.

But Venus couldn't serve out the set, losing serve for the second time as well. Later, she held for 6-all, helped by a forehand that sent Serena stumbling.

In the tiebreaker, Serena reached 3-1 by taking a ball she thought was out and hitting a forehand past Venus.

Serena then turned to the line judge, and shouted, "You just don't call them out, do you?"

The second set was the first Venus had won from Serena in five matches since she beat Serena in the 2001 U.S. Open final.

The two traded early breaks in the final set, and Serena had five break points to go ahead 5-3. She violently hurled down her racket after finally netting a forehand to give Venus game point.

"That's fine," Venus said. "She's questioning calls and yells and slams the racket. I'm more or less the one that's kind of silent."

But in the last game, Venus went out with four straight errors, ending with a forehand hit long.

Despite having more errors than her sister, Serena had a 37-28 edge in winners.

They met at the net to hug and whisper in each other's ears. Then Serena blew kisses to the crowd. Venus applauded with her racket.

"I never get choked up, but I'm really emotional right now," Serena said at the trophy ceremony.

On the verge of tears, she added: "I'm really, really, really happy. I'd like to thank my mom and my dad for helping me."

Serena collected $654,000 for winning; Venus received $327,000.

If Venus had served in the first and third sets as she did in the second, "I wouldn't have a chance," Serena said. But she added, "I had great returns. ... I think she did a mighty fine job."

Speaking about the mental toughness she needed in the tiebreaker, Serena said, "Most of my fight and courage, I've gotten from Venus."

As temperatures reached 108 degrees, the match was played with Rod Laver Arena's roof closed. It was the first time an entire Australian Open women's final was played with the roof closed.

"It felt great," Serena said. "I love to play indoors."

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