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Talking Wimbledon Preview... All Williams Finals ahead?

Ladies' Singles Preview

Ronald Atkin

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

The domination of women's tennis by the Williams sisters looks set to continue at Wimbledon following the draw, which was made today (Tuesday). Venus Williams, winner of the tournament for the past two years and ranked word number one, has what looks like a straightforward route through the early rounds, while her younger sister, Serena, winner over Venus in the final of the French Open earlier this month, is seeded second and apparently facing no early threat either.

Because the 1997 and 1999 champions, Martina Hingis and Lindsay Davenport, are in rehabilition following operations (Hingis on her foot and Davenport on her knee) the only other former winner of Wimbledon in the field apart from Venus is Spain's Conchita Martinez, the 1994 champion.

Now aged 30 and having slipped to 58th in the rankings, Martinez can be considered unlucky to have come out in the same section of the draw as Venus, whom she could face in the fourth round. Venus opens with a Centre Court match against a British wild card, 19-year-old Jane O'Donoghue, from Wigan. Next will come either the German, Angelika Roesch, or Spain's Virginia Ruano Pascal, so the tall champion's streak of Wimbledon wins, currently standing at 14, does not look under early threat.

The nation of Belgium is the one fated to attempt Venus' overthrow, since their top two, Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin, are both in her half of the draw. Clijsters, seeded fifth, is a potential quarter-final opponent, while the seventh-seeded Henin, should she prove too strong for the fourth seed, Monica Seles, would oppose Venus at the semi-final stage.

For Serena the later stages look more demanding, since she is drawn to meet the doughty little Yugoslav (and former Australian) Jelena Dokic in the Quarter-Finals and then the third seed, Jennifer Capriati, in the Semis.

Dokic won her first grass court title at Birmingham last weekend and is top seed at Eastbourne this week. The field of 128, with the qualifiers still to be decided, contains 17 Americans, with the French and Spanish the next most numerous with eight competitors each. Britain comes next with seven, though all, like Miss O'Donoghue, are Wild Cards.

Having surprised Venus by taking a set off her in last year's final, Henin will be optimistic about going one better this time, despite the physical mismatch. The Henin backhand is widely regarded as the finest in the women's game and the 20-year-old from Liege shouild not be stretched until a possible fourth round match-up against the elegant Russian, Elena Dementieva.

Should Clijsters manage to upset Venus, which is entirely possible since the strongly-built youngster who only celebrated her 19th birthday earlier this month is no respecter of reputations, there is the prospect of an all-Belgian semi-final, which would certainly be a first for Wimbledon. This happened at Roland Garros last year, with Clijsters the victor.

However, Capriati represents the best chance of foiling the ambitions of the Williams family. Seeded third this time, she is drawn in what appears an undemanding quarter, with the opportunity to clock up a few victories before the going gets tough.

The Capriati story is the most heart-warming in women's sport. Coming back from burn-out and teenage drug experimentation, she won the Australian and French Opens in 2001. There was even talk of her becoming the first since Steffi Graf in 1988 to sweep all four Grand Slams in one year and things were looking promising when she eliminated Serena in last year's Wimbledon quarter-finals in a match of mighty hitting.

But Capriati's Grand Slam dreams were torpedoed by the clinical tennis of Henin in a see-saw Semi-Final. This year she again captured the Australian title but was felled in the semi-finals of Roland Garros by Serena in the finest women's match of the tournament.

As Martina Hingis so frequently discovered, to win a grand Slam these days it is necessary to face a second Williams girl should you manage to dispose of one. Capriati was the only realistic hope in Paris of disrupting the Williams domination and the 26-year-old American is the one Venus and Serena will be showing the most respect as they warm up for what they hope is the third of the Williams "specials" in a Grand Slam final, the others being the 2001 US Open and last fortnight's dust-up in Paris.

Though the women's game tends to produce fewer dangeorus floaters than the men's at Grand Slam time, players like the tenacious Japanese, Ai Sugiyama, and Russia's Anastasi Myskina will be looking to provide an upset or two.

Perhaps the biggest threat to Serena Williams and Dokic in the bottom quarter is the Slovak girl, Daniela Hantuchova. Seeded 13th, she could go on to face Dokic in the fourth round. Hantuchova has already shocked Hingis this year by defeating her in the final at Indian Wells in March and reached the fourth round of the French Open before falling to Seles.

Despite the floaters and the dreamers and the realistic ambitions of others, however, it is difficult to look beyond an all-Williams final.

Lindsay Jelena Maria

Mary : Monica : Svetlana : Sania : Jennifer : Amelie
Roddick : Grosjean : David : Djokovic
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