YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

It's Not in Stars for Venus

U.S. Open: Hingis has relatively easy time with upstart Williams, winning in straight sets to claim her third Grand Slam tennis title this year.


NEW YORK — Two tennis players and one horse appear to be the only creatures capable of stopping Martina Hingis this year.

Venus Williams, for all of her youthful vigor, could not find a solution to the Swiss teenager's dominance. Hingis won her third Grand Slam title of the year Sunday, defeating Williams, 6-0, 6-4, in the U.S. Open final in front of 21,566 at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

While clouds gathered over the U.S. Tennis Center, inside the interest level in the match between two of the women's tour's youngest and most intriguing players drew a notable crowd.

Filmmaker Spike Lee and basketball great Michael Jordan looked on as Williams, 17, matched her scant professional experience against the canny Hingis, 16, the world's No. 1 player.

Williams entered the tournament ranked No. 66 and the biggest question mark in the field. Today she'll probably rise to No. 27.

Williams, an African American who grew up playing on Compton's public courts and now lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., has taken an unlikely path to the center court of one of the sport's most prestigious events.

She turned pro at 14 but has played a restricted schedule. Hingis turned pro at the same time, but her career has charted a meteoric rise, marred by one loss in a Grand Slam event.

In some far away Swiss meadow, Tina the horse is blithely ignorant of her culpability in breaking up the first Grand Slam since Steffi Graf in 1988.

Tina is the borrowed steed that threw Hingis to the ground in April, causing an injury to her left knee that required surgery.

The accident set Hingis back six weeks and saw to it that she entered the French Open at the end of May not fully fit. Hingis' best match of the year came in her defeat of Monica Seles in the semifinals at Roland Garros. Her least favorite match came next, losing in the final to Iva Majoli.

Lindsay Davenport of Newport Beach has been the only other player to defeat Hingis this year, stopping her in the semifinals at Manhattan Beach last month.

Hingis' record this year is 63-2, she has won 10 tournaments and is the youngest player to win three Grand Slam tournaments in one year.

Hingis won $650,000 for her victory and Williams literally pocketed $350,000 as runner-up. When handed the envelope containing her prize money, she quickly slipped it into the pocket of her skirt.

Hingis rushed through the first set in 22 minutes. Only when Williams held in the first game of the second set--after facing two break points--did the crowd begin to awaken and cheer loudly for the American. Williams broke Hingis in the eighth game but failed to hold serve in the next game. Hingis served for the match.

"I think maybe I was nervous," Williams said. "But playing against Martina is a different match. You can't hit yourself out of [trouble] because she takes the pace off the ball a lot."

Yet Williams proved enough in reaching the final, and in making the second set close, that she has the raw talent to become a champion herself someday.

"There was a lot of talk all around," she said of the complaints that she hadn't played enough competitive tennis before this tournament. "I'm glad to quiet it a little."

Hingis moved through this tournament with her trademark assurance. After she won, Hingis tossed her racket into the crowd and sprinted toward the friends' box and leaped up to grasp her mother's hands.

She even rewrote the script of the award ceremony, grabbing the microphone to make additional remarks to the crowd. Hingis signed off with a jaunty, "See you later."

No doubt she will, for if ever a player enjoyed herself in her profession, it is Hingis. Her uncomplicated approach has yielded an unusually trouble-free career path. Few players are as pleased with themselves as Hingis.

"I've had a great year," she said. "What can I improve? It's a little scary. I haven't won the French Open, so that's kind of my goal."

Hingis does not accept the proposition that her accomplishments this season should in any way be italicized because of the extended injury-absence of Steffi Graf, the longtime No. 1 and brief but chief rival.

"It's not my mistake she's not playing here," Hingis said of Graf, who is not expected to return from knee surgery this year. Interestingly, the year after Graf won the four majors and the Olympic title in 1988, she had a season much like Hingis', in which she won three majors and lost in the French Open final.

Williams only recently started to play Grand Slam tournaments. This final was her first in any tournament. Her improvement and on-court maturation have been remarkable throughout her abbreviated season. No longer is the 6-foot-2 Williams simply a powerful baseline player with a strong, but unreliable serve.

The teenager has done something remarkable--tinker with and improve her game in the middle of a Grand Slam tournament. Williams said she learned the need for patience, the necessity for staying in points, and how to adapt to what her opponent offers.

Los Angeles Times Articles