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Sisters' 1-2 Punch Has a New Recipe

Wimbledon: Serena, Venus Williams win way to final, but this time Serena assured of No. 1 ranking.

July 05, 2002|LISA DILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WIMBLEDON, England — Instead of referring to Wimbledon as simply Wimbledon, the Brits like their shorthand neat and tidy. They often speak of it as SW19, which is the location of this historic place.

After Thursday, does SW stand for Serena Williams?

It was at SW19 that Serena created another historic moment--which seems to be a weekly occurrence--by becoming the No. 1 female player in the world.

For the first time, a sister will be replacing her sister at the top.

Not to mention that a sister again will be playing her sister in a Grand Slam final, after Serena and Venus Williams each won their semifinals Thursday to set up the championship match.

No matter who wins the title, when the WTA's rankings are released Monday, Serena will be No. 1 and her older sister Venus No. 2, officially trading places.

The sheer odds of this happening?

"One in a million," Serena said.

WTA tour officials intentionally did not tell her about the prospect of becoming No. 1 after they did the math late Wednesday night.

"I didn't know going into the match," Serena Williams said. "Normally, you guys [in the media] take the liberty to tell me. At the French, I was actually a little nervous about being No. 2. No one said anything to me, so I wasn't really looking at the points. I just thought I was a little farther behind."

Before the flip-flop at No. 1, there is a little more history, of course. Venus and Serena will be playing in the Wimbledon final on Saturday, the first time that siblings have met for a Wimbledon title since Maud Watson defeated her sister Lillian in 1884.

This will be the third time in 10 months that there has been an all-Williams final in a Grand Slam event. Venus, who leads their series, 5-3, won the U.S. Open in straight sets in September.

Nearly four weeks ago, Serena beat Venus for the first time in a Grand Slam event, winning the French Open final.

At Paris, Serena needed three difficult sets to get past Jennifer Capriati in the semifinals. The losing semifinalists at Wimbledon on Thursday--No. 6-seeded Justine Henin of Belgium and No. 9 Amelie Mauresmo of France--were unable to sustain any sort of momentum against the hard-hitting brilliance of each Williams sister.

In the first semifinal, top-seeded and two-time defending champion Venus lost the first two games to Henin and immediately found her second gear, winning, 6-3, 6-2. It was Venus' sixth victory in seven matches with the Belgian.

Said Venus, who has won 20 consecutive singles matches at Wimbledon: "I think this was the best match I've played the whole tournament, and the fact I did play a very good player who knows how to play on grass. The intensity level was very high."

Although it's difficult to quantify, Serena, perhaps, was even more impressive in her semifinal, hitting seven aces in her 6-2, 6-1 victory over Mauresmo. The younger Williams' service has not been broken in the last three matches, and she has not lost a set.

From 2-2 in the first set, Williams won 10 of the final 11 games of the match, including a riveting battle in the fifth game of the second set on Mauresmo's serve. The game went to eight deuces, and Mauresmo fought off seven break points before succumbing on the eighth, trying every shot in her considerable arsenal.

"I just knew I was going to have to pick up my game--I'd have to be Serena Williams, you know," Williams said. "I haven't been being Serena Williams. But today I have.

"I knew I had to take away her coming to the net by playing my game, forcing her. It's going to be difficult coming in on a ball that's coming a hundred miles an hour."

It only served to widen the divide between the Williamses and the rest of the field.

Henin and Mauresmo, unlike former No. 1-ranked Martina Hingis, have decent serves and can hit with power from the baseline. Yet Henin, who reached the final here last year, losing to Venus Williams in three sets, was run ragged on Thursday. Mauresmo, coming off one of her best victories in more than three years--a determined, well-executed effort against Capriati--tried a variety of game plans against Williams, but little seemed to work.

Neither Mauresmo nor Henin saw the all-Williams final as particularly beneficial to the sport.

"It's not good to see two sisters in the final," Henin said. "It's tough for the public to see sisters play each other because they don't know who to root for."

Henin thinks the sisters find it difficult to have the same kind of competitive hunger against each other that they have against others.

Said Mauresmo of the final matchup: "Well, to me, I think it's a little bit sad for women's tennis. But maybe it's not the point of view for everybody. First, I think people are going to get bored by it. It was already final at the French Open. You know, I'm not counting how many people since yesterday told me, 'We don't want Williams final.' Some people think like this. Some people think it's good. You know, everyone has a different opinion."

The sisters are still sorting out the issues when they play in these high-profile marquee matches.

"A win's a win," Serena said. "You have to go there and fight. I know Venus has beaten me a few times. She felt bad. Like when I beat her at the French Open, I kind of felt like I wished there was something she could have won too. But we did. We both walked out as winners."

The titles can't be shared, nor can the No. 1 spot.

Serena was genuinely thrilled by her surprising arrival at the top.

"I'm still waiting for the catch," she said. "There's always a catch. I guess there's not. I'm very happy right now. I've worked hard. I've worked really hard. I deserve it."

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