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Serena wins 3rd straight in sister slam

Venus Williams struggles with her serve, and her younger sister extends her streak of major titles.

By KEITH NIEBUHR, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 8, 2002

NEW YORK -- The fourth all-Williams final in 12 months was all Serena. Again.

Bettering her sister in every phase, 20-year-old Serena Williams beat 22-year-old Venus 6-4, 6-3 in Saturday night's U.S. Open women's final before an emotionally charged, record-setting crowd of 23,164 at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

It was the third consecutive Grand Slam event in which the sisters faced off in the final. Top-ranked Serena, who also earned straight-set wins over No. 2 Venus this year in the French Open and Wimbledon finals, has four consecutive wins in the sisterly series, which was evened at 5.

"Right now I'm just so happy," Serena said.

Serena is the first to win three straight majors since Steffi Graf in 1996. And she might have had a shot at another had she not missed the Australian Open with an ankle injury.

Serena is 45-4 this year, 21-0 in majors.

"I really wanted to win here," she said.

The Williams sisters have combined to win the past four Opens. Serena took the title in 1999, and Venus won the next two years, beating Serena in the 2001 final. No player has won three straight Opens since Chris Evert won four in a row from 1975-78.

Each sister has four major titles.

Venus struggled with her serve in the first set, but it took a while for Serena to capitalize. In the opening game Venus trailed 0-40 but fended off four break chances to go ahead 1-0. Two games later Serena had three more break chances and lost the game.

Finally, in the seventh game, Serena went ahead 4-3, breaking Venus' serve for the first time on her ninth chance. But in the next game Serena gave one back, allowing Venus to tie the set at 4 on a wide forehand.

Up to the task, Serena immediately broke back.

Then, serving for the set, she unleased an ace at 40-0. Serena won the final eight points in the set, and Venus had six opening-set double faults.

On another Venus double fault, Serena broke serve and went ahead 2-1 in the second set. In an interview with CBS during a changeover, father Richard Williams speculated Venus' less-than-stellar play might be attributed to a blister on her right hand that needed a bandage in Friday's semifinal win over Amelie Mauresmo. He then said, "If she doesn't do something, she's going to be out of here."

Two games later, Serena broke Venus again, losing one point in the game, to go up 4-1.

Ahead 5-3, Serena ended the suspense with Venus serving, but not before Venus provided the crowd with a little drama. At 15-40, Venus crushed a second-serve ace and forced deuce after a dramatic rally. But Serena won the next two points, the match ending when Venus hit a forehand into the net.

The two hugged near the net, and as Serena walked off the court she said, "I'm tired."

It was hard to tell.

Serena led in winners (16-13) and service breaks (5-2) and committed fewer double faults (10-1) and unforced errors (33-19). Serena had 17 break chances to Venus' four.

"I wasn't the better player today," Venus said. "I'm proud of her. I did the best I could today. I did make a lot of mistakes, which makes it tough to win the match."

Since last year's Open, Serena and Venus are a combined 52-1 in majors when not playing each other. And if they continue at their current level, they might remain Nos. 1 and 2 in the rankings for quite a while. That sets up even more all-Williams finals.

Both sisters were asked after their respective semifinal wins a day earlier if the fact they have dominated the game in 2002 was good for women's tennis. While that is debatable, this much is not: It's good for the Williamses.

On this night, it was especially nice for Serena.

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