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Venus claims Open

The elder Williams sister lives up to her prediction for her second straight Grand Slam title.

By DARRELL FRY

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 10, 2000


NEW YORK -- She predicted, actually insisted, that it was her time, that this was the year she should be crowned U.S. Open champion.

If Venus Williams is anything, it's confident. Whether you like it or not when Williams talks the talk, it was obvious Saturday she can walk the walk. She trampled second seed Lindsay Davenport 6-4, 7-5 to run her unbeaten streak to a WTA Tour-high 26 straight and claim her first U.S. Open singles title.

She did it by taking one of the most strenuous routes of any champion. In a way, she beat not one but two No. 1 players, toppling top-ranked Martina Hingis in the semifinals and Davenport, already assured of becoming No. 1 when the rankings are released Monday.

"It was satisfying for me because I felt like I beat Lindsay when she was playing some of her best tennis," said Williams, who chatted by phone with President Bill Clinton after the match.

Williams' triumph, which comes one year after her younger sister, Serena, won the singles crown, punctuates what has been a remarkable season. Venus was nowhere to be found for the first half of the year, sidelined with nagging wrist injuries.

When she finally rejoined the tour, she came out throwing haymakers. She won Wimbledon in July, beating Davenport in the final for the first of five straight titles, including two Grand Slams and a 19-0 record on hard courts.

Perhaps the only thing of note she didn't do was take the No. 1 ranking. But after the third-ranked Williams beat Hingis and Davenport here, is there any doubt who's the real queen of the scene?

After all, Williams has beaten Hingis four of their last five matches and Davenport five of the last six, including three straight.

"Oh, yeah," Williams said when asked if she thought she was No. 1. "I always feel like I'm the best player. It's just an attitude."

So much is made of Williams' power, but this 20-year-old Californian-turned-Floridian seized this title -- and the $800,000 winner's check -- with her astounding speed. Davenport hit the same baseline rockets she usually does, but Williams ran them down time and again, keeping points alive and daring Davenport to go for a little more.

Often, when Davenport did lay on some extra mustard, she pushed it too far, which accounted for many of her 26 unforced errors.

"I don't think we've ever seen anybody cover the court like you did," former pro Tony Trabert said during the trophy presentation.

It didn't hurt that one of Davenport's biggest weapons, her serve, was on the fritz for the second straight day. She got in just 56 percent of her first serves and hit only five aces.

"I felt I could break her serve, but I just couldn't serve well enough to hold my own," Davenport said. Of Davenport's recent losses to Williams, this one is probably going to haunt her most because it easily could have gone her way.

After rain delayed the start of the match at Arthur Ashe Stadium, Davenport came out blazing. She took a 4-1 lead and could have served to make it 5-1, which may have been an insurmountable lead against an accomplished, three-time Slam champion like Davenport.

But Davenport had taken a big lead the day before against Elena Dementieva, going up 6-2, 5-2, only to let the 18-year-old Russian back into the match. She found herself in a similar predicament against Williams, but quickly found out Williams is no Dementieva.

Davenport couldn't stop Venus from barreling down on her just the way Venus did against Hingis, when Williams rallied from a 5-3 third-set hole in the semifinals.

Trailing 4-1, Williams ran the table on her Californian opponent, sweeping six straight games. With Williams steaming toward the finish, Davenport got one more chance to derail her in the second set. She had two chances to break Williams' serve and take a 6-5 lead and could have served out the set to force a third. But she squandered both, first with a return into the net, then a forehand that sailed wide.

Williams held serve to go up 6-5 and kept tightening the screws on Davenport until she squirted a backhand long to settle the issue after one hour and 25 minutes.

"I felt I should have owned that (first) set," Davenport said. "And I had a lot of chances to win the second set but didn't capitalize on them. But at this level you just can't do that."

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