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Venus Out of U.S. Open

Abdominal injury forces Williams to join her sister Serena on the sideline.

August 23, 2003|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

The not-too-surprising withdrawal Friday of two-time champion Venus Williams from the U.S. Open because of a lingering abdominal injury creates an immediate benefit for the likes of Jennifer Capriati and generates at least two germane questions.

Is it really too late to get John McEnroe and Boris Becker to shore up the women's prime-time final? And could the first Monday of the Open -- with the Pete Sampras farewell and possible Andy Roddick-Tim Henman match -- be more interesting than the final weekend?

Williams' exit, coupled with the earlier departure of her younger sister Serena, drains the Open of a sizable amount of star power, considering the recent domination of the Williams sisters. They have met in the final of the Open the last two years, and in five of the last six Grand Slam tennis tournaments.

The last player not named Williams to win the U.S. Open was Lindsay Davenport in 1998. Serena won in New York in 1999 and 2002, and Venus took the championship in 2000 and 2001. She has not won a Slam since beating Serena in the 2001 U.S. Open final.

Serena pulled out of the Open on Aug. 1 because of left knee surgery, and there has been persistent speculation Venus would not be ready either, because she had not played a tournament since losing to Serena in the Wimbledon final.

"I kept thinking I would be able to compete," Venus said Friday in a statement issued by her representatives, the management firm IMG. "Unfortunately, it just wasn't meant to be. So, with regret, I have to pull out of this tournament and continue my recovery. I'm looking for-ward to playing again in the fall."

Still, this prolonged period of recovery has to be a concern. Venus suffered the abdominal injury in May and, like Serena, is considered questionable for the season-ending WTA Championships at Staples Center.

Venus was seeded fourth at the Open, and No. 35-ranked Katarina Srebotnik of Slovenia will take her place in the draw. Qualifier Maureen Drake of Canada will take Srebotnik's spot against Mary Pierce of France in the first round.

The absence of Venus could assist No. 6 Capriati, No. 11 Elena Dementieva of Russia or No. 15 Ai Sugiyama of Japan, who were all in her quarter of the draw, and No. 2 Justine Henin-Hardenne of Belgium, who was in the same half.

"It wasn't that big an issue for me," Davenport, seeded third at the Open, said Friday during a postmatch news conference in New Haven, Conn. "She was on the other side of the draw. I was never really going to meet her till the finals....

"I do think it's a shame for the fans. Serena and Venus have been the ones dominating the Slams the last few years. It's always exciting, especially for the New York crowd, to have at least one of them there."

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