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Williams sisters appeal to fans ... if not Hewitt

By KEITH NEIBUHR
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 17, 2002

Top-ranked men's player Lleyton Hewitt speaks highly of sisters Serena and Venus Williams, but after winning his first Wimbledon singles title last week, he questioned if fans would remain interested in the sibling rivalry.

"They're dominating, all right. Three out of the last four Slams, they've played in the finals," Hewitt said. "They're No. 1 and 2 in the world. And winning doubles, as well. It's an incredible effort, an incredible story. But people may get sick of seeing the two of them playing in every Grand Slam final all the time."

It hasn't happened yet.

They not only dominated Wimbledon on the court (Serena won the singles title over Venus, and they won the doubles title.), but on the tube. Their singles final drew a 3.4 rating (more than 3.5-million households), up 13 percent from last year.

The men's final, by comparison, averaged 2.4 (down four percent) and was outdone by the women's doubles final, which peaked at 2.8 despite airing after Hewitt's rout of unknown David Nalbandian.

"People like excellence," NBC commentator Bud Collins said. "There was so much fun and so many upsets in the (men's draw). But when that happens, you get shortchanged in the finals. Nobody had ever heard of (Nalbandian)."

Will fans eventually tire of Serena and Venus?

"I don't think so," Collins said. "Not as long as they're winning."

WATCH OUT, TIGER: Forget about Phil Mickelson. If anybody is capable of stealing Tiger Woods' thunder in 2002, top-ranked Serena Williams could be the person.

The 20-year-old is 36-3 this year, has won 19 consecutive matches, leads the WTA money list by more than $900,000 and owns five tournament titles, including the French Open and Wimbledon.

If not for an ankle injury that forced her to withdraw from the Australian Open in January, she might be chasing a Grand Slam of her own.

"If she wins the U.S. Open, that will be three out of four Grand Slam (events), which is the best since Steffi Graf won the Grand Slam in 1988," Collins said.

"I think she's maturing. (Serena and Venus) are very smart girls and as they grow, they're going to grow in tennis. I really think they're going to push each other like Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova did."

When Serena Williams moved to No. 1 two weeks ago for the first time, she joined an elite group. Since rankings were introduced in 1975, only 11 players have held the top spot.

Graf, who won 22 Gland Slam singles events, was No. 1 for a record 378 weeks, followed by Navratilova (331), Evert (262), Martina Hingis (209), Monica Seles (178), Lindsay Davenport (37), Tracy Austin (22), Jennifer Capriati (17), Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario (12), Venus Williams (12) and Serena Williams (2).

In a recent online fan poll, 48 percent of the 35,000 respondents believe Serena can remain No. 1 for more than a year. But 29 percent she will be dethroned within a month.

ODDS AND ENDS: Ever wondered what it takes to become a pro player (besides spending thousands of dollars on lessons)? The ATP Tour (www.atptour.com) has a page on its Web site detailing the process of getting started. ... Serena Williams, appearing Monday on Late Show with David Letterman, took a nice jab at the host. After Letterman confessed, "I know nothing about tennis," he mentioned the French Open and asked Williams, "So when the ball hits the clay, it just sort of drops dead where it hits?" Williams turned to the audience and said, "He wasn't kidding about not knowing anything."

LAST WORD: After winning Best Comeback Athlete at last week's ESPY Awards, Saddlebrook's Capriati joked, "I actually beat Michael Jordan in something?" Jordan was among the finalists. -- Information from Times wires was used in this report.

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