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It's Venus and Henin in the final

By KEITH NIEBUHR, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 14, 2002

AMELIA ISLAND -- As Venus Williams was to begin a semifinal match against Anne Kremer on Saturday, Justine Henin, who minutes earlier beat Jelena Dokic in the other semifinal, entered her postmatch news conference.

A few questions in, somebody asked for Henin's thoughts about playing Williams in today's Bausch & Lomb Championships final at Amelia Island Plantation. "If I play Venus," Henin reminded her audience.

Wishful thinking?

Despite a slow start, the top-seeded Williams defeated Kremer 7-5, 6-0 in 63 minutes. She won the final 10 games and hit 41 winners to 12 for the unheralded Kremer, who looked shellshocked in the second set. Williams, No. 2 in the world, plays Henin, the second seed, at 1 p.m.

"I've played her quite a few times," Williams said. "I know her game."

Because of numerous rain delays through the week, Henin, ranked No. 9, played twice Saturday. In her opening match, she defeated No. 6 seed Silvia Farina Elia 6-4, 6-4. Two hours later, Henin needed only 43 minutes to beat third-seeded and eighth-ranked Dokic, who lives in Tampa. Dokic, last weekend's Sarasota Open champ, retired in the second set because of a stomach virus trailing 6-2, 4-1.

"I was a little surprised," Henin said. "I didn't know she was sick. I didn't see anything. I was ready to finish (the match) as soon as possible, but you never know what can happen. ... Thankfully, it wasn't a long match."

Even before Dokic retired, Henin was well on her way. She had more winners (18-14) and fewer unforced errors (27-10) and converted four of her six break-point chances. Dokic had no aces or break points, but three double faults.

"It was a little frustrating for her," Henin said. "Everything she was hitting was coming back."

Dokic, bidding for her fifth title, beat 10th-seeded Elena Dementieva 0-6, 7-6, 6-1 earlier in the day. The 29th-ranked Kremer, who also played twice Saturday, upset No. 5 seed Sandrine Testud 7-5, 6-1 in the quarterfinals.

Williams was the only semifinalist without a quarterfinal Saturday. But despite being the most rested of the four, she struggled early against Kremer. Williams trailed 5-3 but broke Kremer's serve twice and rallied to win the set.

Kremer never recovered.

"I wasn't really thinking about the score because she can bounce back at any time," Kremer said. "She stepped it up and I stepped it down."

Williams won the second set in 20 minutes with overpowering serves and consistently deep ground strokes.

"She played a lot of matches in the last 24 hours," Williams said. "It's not easy, so you have to give her credit. She was up 5-3, but when you're playing a top player, you have to forget about it, step up and close it out. She missed a few shots and let me back in it."

Williams is 4-1 against Henin and has won four straight, including two this year. Henin won their only meeting on clay at the 2001 Berlin-German Open.

"She's very versatile," Williams said. "She can do anything. ... She can do whatever it takes to win a match and not every player can do that these days. I just have to be more consistent. I have to keep a few more balls in play, step up at the right moment and cut back on the unforced errors."'

This is the first time the top seeds have met in the final since 1995.

"She's one of the best players in the world, maybe the best," Henin said. "She's very strong. I know what I have to do. I have nothing to lose."

ESTORIL OPEN: David Nalbandian reached his first ATP final, beating No. 3 seed Carlos Moya 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 at Oeiras, Portugal. Nalbandian faces Jarkko Nieminen, who beat top seed Juan Carlos Ferrero, in today's final. Magui Serna meets qualifier Anca Barna in the women's final; No. 4 seed Serna beat Elena Bovina and Barna topped Dinara Safina.

GRAND PRIX HASSAN II OPEN: Guillermo Canas and Younes El Aynaoui advanced to today's final with rain-delayed wins in Casablanca, Morocco. Canas, the top seed and defending champion, beat Julien Boutter 7-5, 6-4. El Aynaoui, the second seed playing in his home country, topped Mikhail Youzhny, 6-3, 7-6 (7-2).

-- Information from Times wires was used in this report.

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