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With Sampras Not Playing, Australian Men and Venus Williams Will Be in the Spotlight

September 10, 2000|LISA DILLMAN


* OVERVIEW--Who can stop Venus Williams?

The Olympic twist is that the player with the best chance to do so, the teenager with the most moxie, the most game isn't in the singles draw. Had Serena Williams--the younger sister, roommate and best friend of Venus--simply entered either of the British grass court events in Birmingham or Eastbourne, she would have gained enough computer points to surpass Monica Seles for the third singles spot.

So there will be no Williams vs. Williams drama. The sisters are combining to conquer the world, and are prohibitive favorites for the doubles gold medal.

Venus could walk away with two golds. The Wimbledon champion has not lost since the French Open quarterfinals and has won five consecutive tournaments, including the U.S. Open on Saturday.

Her primary challenge will come from the other two Americans in the draw: Seles and 1996 gold medalist Lindsay Davenport. Davenport used to routinely beat Venus Williams, but the momentum in that rivalry has flipped in dramatic fashion, as Saturday's Open final demonstrated.

Three potential threats to Williams won't be competing at Sydney. Martina Hingis declined to play for Switzerland but would not have been eligible anyway because she failed to meet Fed Cup criteria. Hingis played in 1996, losing to Ai Sugiyama of Japan. Anna Kournikova of Russia and Mary Pierce of France, the reigning French Open champion, won't be in Sydney either.

* OTHERS TO WATCH--The Spanish women make it a point of playing in the Olympics. Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario won a silver medal in 1996, losing to Davenport in straight sets in the final. Conchita Martinez, a runner-up at the French Open this year, lost in the quarterfinals in Atlanta.

* BEST STORY--The most intriguing developments in Australia usually involve the troubled Dokic family. After much negotiation, 17-year-old Jelena agreed to represent Australia at the Olympics. At the U.S. Open, her controversial father, Damir, was thrown out of the tournament for disruptive behavior after he complained about the price of food in the concessions area. Will officials let him on site at the Olympics? And if they do, who will he insult or threaten next?

* SOUTHLAND ATHLETES ON U.S TEAM--Lindsay Davenport, 24, Murietta Valley High, Laguna Beach; Venus Williams, 20, Compton; Serena Williams, 18, Compton.

* KEY DATES--Sept. 27, singles final; Sept. 28, doubles final.


Fast Fact

* Unlike the men, the U.S. women all wanted to go to Sydney. So much so that doubles specialist Lisa Raymond filed for arbitration. She lost, meaning Serena Williams stayed on the team.

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