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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES

History Repeats Itself in Doubles

Tennis: Williams sisters, under King's guidance, maintain U.S. stranglehold on event with 6-1, 6-1 victory over Netherlands.

September 29, 2000|BILL DWYRE | TIMES SPORTS EDITOR

SYDNEY, Australia — This being the Olympics, it was nice to see a torch being passed here Thursday.

When sisters Venus and Serena Williams won the gold medal in women's doubles tennis, keeping intact a U.S. monopoly on the event, they accepted, at least figuratively, a major role in the future of the women's game from one of the greats of the past.

Their coach here was the fabled Billie Jean King, owner of 12 Grand Slam event titles in singles, 15 in women's doubles and 11 in mixed. She came from the public courts of Long Beach and set the tennis world on its ear for more than 20 years, starting in the early 1960s.

And while she is best remembered by the general public for knocking Bobby Riggs on his ear in "The Battle of the Sexes" in the Astrodome in 1973, she has become deeply dedicated, as Olympic and Fed Cup captain, to ensuring a U.S. tennis future by sharing her part in a U.S. tennis past.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday September 30, 2000 Home Edition Special Section Part U Page 9 Sports Desk 1 inches; 22 words Type of Material: Correction
Tennis--Serena Williams withdrew from doubles competition at the U.S. Open earlier this month, not her sister, Venus, as was reported in a story Friday.

The Williams sisters spent two weeks here, learning the game and its history from King and her assistant, Zina Garrison. There were doubles drills and more doubles drills. And there were many questions from King about history.

"That's how I teach," King said. "I ask questions."

It wasn't as if Venus and Serena Williams needed instruction on the continental grip. That was evident in their 6-1, 6-1 shellacking of Kristie Boogert and Miriam Oremans of the Netherlands in the gold-medal match. The first set took 20 minutes, the second 29.

The legacy of U.S. women's Olympic doubles, inherited here by the Williamses, restarted when tennis returned to the Olympics in 1988 in Seoul and Pam Shriver and Garrison outlasted Czechs Jana Novotna and Helena Sukova, 4-6, 6-2, 10-8. The difference in drama between that one and Thursday's was night and day. Shriver and Garrison battled for every point, every inch, before prevailing, and Shriver would remember, years later, "We just couldn't get Novotna to miss."

Mary Joe Fernandez and Gigi Fernandez, not related, had a similar struggle in Barcelona in 1992, finally getting past Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Conchita Martinez, 7-5, 2-6, 6-2, and had no waltz in Atlanta in 1996 when they beat Novotna and Sukova, 7-6, 6-4.

The Williams sisters, who have won 33 of their last 34 doubles matches, have taken titles in four of the last five major events they have entered: the 1999 French Open, '99 U.S. Open, 2000 Wimbledon and now the Olympics. They got as far as the semifinals of this year's U.S. Open, but Venus pulled out of the doubles with a slight injury that allowed her to rest for the singles title she eventually won.

It is seldom a struggle for them. They lost only one set here.

But as happy as King was about the doubles gold medal, as well as Venus' gold in singles and Monica Seles' bronze in singles--and the prospect of Lindsay Davenport healing up soon and rejoining the American team--she was even happier about the amount of time she had here to coach and teach.

"It was great to have them here, to be able to spend this much time," she said. "We were able to work on a lot of things. Venus' serve, if you can imagine, needed some work. She was getting in trouble when she turned her head a certain way.

"And we really worked on their doubles, on their volleys and their court movement."

The Williamses acknowledged that afterward.

"We worked on moving like a team," Venus said. "And one time, when we had a point where we did that, moved like a team, and we got the point, we looked up there in the stands at our coaches. Kind of like, 'Hey, it works.' "

Something else obviously worked during the tutelage of King and Garrison--the history lessons.

With her doubles victory, Venus Williams became the first woman since Helen Wills in 1924 in Paris to win a singles and doubles gold medal in the Olympics. Venus Williams was asked if she knew who Wills was.

"Yes, I do," she said, smiling like somebody who had prepared for the test question. "I know that she played with a real steely look on her face."

King was quick to acknowledge that Venus and Serena have been coached all along by their parents, Richard and Oracene Williams. But left unsaid was the reality that neither has experienced in tennis what King has.

She's been there, done that, and is eager to keep the U.S. women's tennis flame burning brightly.

'Tis the Olympic spirit.

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Medal Winners

Women's Doubles

Gold: Venus-Serena Williams, United States

Silver: Kristie Boogert-Miriam Oremans, Netherlands

Bronze: Els Callens-Dominique Van Roost, Belgium

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Recent Olympic Tennis Champions

Singles

1988: Steffi Graf

1992: Jennifer Capriati

1996: Lindsay Davenport

Doubles

1988: Pam Shriver/Zina Garrison

1992: Gigi Fernandez/Mary Jo Fernandez

1996: Gigi Fernandez/Mary Jo Fernandez

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Year of the Williams Sisters

A closer look at Olympics doubles champions Venus and Serena Williams:

* The 6-1, 6-1 victory was the most one-sided final in Olympic history.

* Venus became the only other woman besides Helen Wills Moody in 1924 to win both the singles and doubles title at the same Olympiad.

* The sisters won the French and U.S. Open championships last year and Wimbledon this year.

* The victory was the 22nd in a row for the sisters.

* Venus extended her singles match streak to 32 in a row with a win in the singles final.

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