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Venus wins Open as Serena unravels

The elder Williams takes advantage of dozens of errors and earns her fourth Grand Slam title.

By SHARON GINN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 9, 2001


NEW YORK -- If the New York glitterati and CBS executives were disappointed by the lopsided and quick match between two of tennis' biggest stars, Serena Williams seemed to be more so. Aggravation was written all over her face as she blasted shots long, wide and especially into the net.

When Venus Williams closed out her 6-4, 6-2 victory Saturday with four straight points -- all on unforced errors by her sister -- to win her second straight U.S. Open title, Serena tossed her racket a few feet in frustration. Venus trotted to the net, waiting patiently as her little sister picked up the racket and jogged over. The two embraced.

"I love you, all right?" 20-year-old Venus said.

But emotions obviously didn't get to Venus Williams on the court. Neither, it seemed, did anything else. Unbothered by swirling winds or a respiratory virus that had plagued her during the week, Venus played patiently, using the right balance of power and precision to dismantle her sister's hard-smacking game.

Serena, 19, didn't help matters. Though she matched her sister stroke for stroke in the first four games, and at one point roused the crowd with a 119 mph ace, Venus broke her at 2-2 and won the next three games.

The second set was more competitive, but Serena did herself in with mistakes. She finished with more winners than Venus, 16 to 7, but made 36 unforced errors to Venus' 19.

"It was a bit tough out there," said Serena, the 10th seed who collected $425,000. "I was fighting the wind, I was fighting myself, I was fighting Venus. There were too many fights going on out there.

"I think Venus actually has taken a lot of power off her ball, and she's actually making less mistakes, using more tactics in her game. She tried something different this whole tournament and I think it worked."

Apparently so; Venus did not drop a set at the Open. Though she is ranked No. 4 in the world -- mostly because of a fairly light tournament schedule -- she has won four of the past six Grand Slam events.

"I don't feel I played my best," Venus said. "But it's not always the best that counts but how you play the important points. I'd like, I guess, to improve my game."

As youngsters scooting around public courts in Compton, Calif., the sisters used to pretend they were playing in the Open final. They've battled countless times in practice, and five other times in tour events with Venus leading the series 5-1. Each had won an Open before Saturday, with Serena's coming first in 1999.

But this was easily their most high-profile match. The buildup was almost laughable for professional tennis, with Diana Ross, flanked by a gospel choir and punctuated by fireworks, belting out America the Beautiful before the match. Tournament officials released a list of about 50 celebrities in attendance, many of them A-listers.

Though mother Oracene was in the players' box to watch two of her five daughters face off, the sellout crowd of 23,023 didn't include father Richard, who went home to Palm Beach Gardens to watch on television.

After the one-sided first set didn't live up to the hype, the crowd implored the sisters to make a match of it. But Serena, who had been broken twice and had few answers for Venus' serve, continued to have trouble dealing with the wind.

She fell behind 2-0 in the second set after losing serve in the first game. But she regrouped, breaking Venus with four straight winners and tying the set at 2. Though she had won 10 of the previous 13 points, Serena again began whacking balls out. After swatting a backhand long -- allowing Venus to break for a 3-2 lead -- she screamed in exasperation.

Serena briefly played with more precision, breaking Venus again and holding to take a 4-3 lead. Though they played a few more long, magnificent points, Serena's errors continued and Venus won the final three games.

Venus, who took home $850,000 for the victory, later said she is simply more used to playing in the wind than her sister and had trouble watching Serena's troubles.

"I always want Serena to win, (so) it's kind of strange," Venus said at courtside after the match, making Serena tear up. "I'm the big sister, I take care of Serena, I make sure she has everything even if I don't have anything."

Nonsense, Serena said.

"She said she didn't feel like she really won," Serena said. "I told her, 'You won, take it, it's your win, it's your victory, you need it. Don't feel that way.' "

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