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Williams showdown is set for semifinals

By HUBERT MIZELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 5, 2000


WIMBLEDON, England -- This is Britain, so there's no celebrating the Fourth of July, but on a historic tennis battleground, a gabby and ambitious King Richard plus gifted daughters Venus and Serena turned Tuesday into a Yankee Doodle Williams Dandy.

Serena is the baby sister, 18 , but she one-upped Venus last summer, winning the family's first Grand Slam at the U.S. Open. Now, on Centre Court grass, it will be an all-Williams feast when the slamming sibs meet in a Wimbledon semifinal.

Even in the land of Shakespeare, this was extraordinary theater. Serena scored a 41-minute knockout against Lisa Raymond. The other Williams advance was an artistic contrast -- a slugging heavyweight outlasting a crafty boxer, 20-year-old Venus outpointing Martina Hingis in a three-set, 133-minute drainer.

"This is a great day for America," said Richard Williams, the father/Svengali who coaches both offspring. "When they were babies, my wife and I told Venus and Serena to dream about moments like this -- both succeeding at Wimbledon."

Now, in an intriguing marquee act, it'll be Williams vs. Williams. One of Richard and Oracene's youngsters is assured of making Saturday's final. Their mother, nicknamed Brandy, has followed Wimbledon from Florida. She is considering flying to England for Thursday's event.

Appropriately, it will come in this ancient London suburb, in the arena where black players achieved groundbreaking glory as singles champs, Althea Gibson in 1957-58 and Arthur Ashe in 1975.

"It's so wonderful, but I'm not sure I can watch," Richard Williams said. "I'm not planning to be there for the Venus-Serena match. I'll go somewhere and await the outcome.

"I don't want to feel both happy and sad on every point. To me, it's a family's conquest. I'll be back Saturday to cheer whichever daughter is there."

Richard oozed confidence an hour before Tuesday's matches. "We didn't come across an ocean to lose," he said. "I'm sorry Serena and Venus can't be co-champions."

Venus said of her parents: "They were telling us we were the best back when Serena and I were both far from it. Confidence is the Williams family game. Such belief is paying nice dividends."

The Star-Spangled Banner, please!

Three Yanks will be among Thursday's four women. Defending champion Lindsay Davenport rebounded from a 7-6 loss in Tuesday's first set to deny Monica Seles, a Yugoslav expatriate. The 6-foot-2 Californian won the last sets 6-4, 6-0.

Davenport will meet 17-year-old Jelena Dokic, who was born in Yugoslavia and has relocated to Australia. But it'll be Venus-Serena that dominates headlines. A semifinal match can't get much more compelling.

They've played four times as pros, Venus winning the first three. "I've been catching up," Serena said. "Physically, I think we're now both grown. Look out, world! Neither of us has played her best tennis. We're delighted, for ourselves and for each other."

Traditionally, when a family produces two or three exceptional players, the competition among brothers or sisters is fierce. The Williams sisters swear that's not their deal.

"You can write this down," Serena told reporters. "There is no sibling rivalry. Yes, I want to win Thursday. Yes, Venus wants to win. But the bottom-line spirit is that we know a Williams will make the final."

Venus battled wrist injuries through the early part of the year, playing three tournaments before Wimbledon.

"I loved it when Serena took the U.S. Open last year," she said. "My sorrow from that New York trip was that I got beat by Hingis before Serena handled her in the final.

"Serena always thought the U.S. Open was her best bet to win a Grand Slam. So she always dreamed about that. It came true. My dream was to win Wimbledon. We'll see how that comes out."

Sure, they had little girl scrimmages. Venus was always bigger and stronger. "I had to cheat to keep up," Serena said. Lying about line calls in their practice matches, for example. Venus recalled little sister's sly actions.

"Serena was a great cheater," she said. "What an actor. She could really sell that a ball was out when my eyes could plainly see it was good. But that was playground stuff. I assume they will have officials calling the lines when we play Thursday. Serena's cheating days are over."

Venus gave descriptions, of Serena and herself. "We're alike in many ways, including our tennis philosophies, being products of the same parents and coach," said older sis. "But there are just as many differences. We aren't built alike at all.

"I'm long arms and long legs. Serena has a more powerful, thicker frame. She's quit growing, I think, after spurting an inch and a half to 5-10 since early last year. Me? I've still got her at 6-1. I'm the calmer one. She's quick to excite, more outgoing, more of a jokester."

Serena took her descriptive shot. "Venus is taller, with a big serve," she said. "Let's just say she's ace and I'm smash. Hey, tennis is just a game. It's not life."

Venus validated the theme.

"Tennis is now, but family is forever," she said. "You wouldn't want any attitude in the interest of tennis success that could damage a sister relationship for the rest of our lives. Serena is my best supporter, along with our parents. I'm also hers."

How sweet is sweet?

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