Sister act stutters again
Straight sets for Serena
JonHenderson at Roland Garros
Sunday June 9, 2002
To Serena the spoils, but episode eight of Williams v Williams once again failed to fulfil the high expectations placed in the meetings between the American sisters.
Twenty-year-old Serena beat 21-year-old Venus 7-5, 6-3 on a bright and blustery afternoon to become the 2002 French Open champion, but the contest fell some way short of answering those critics who dismiss their matches as family charades directed by their father Richard. Those hoping that the red clay of the Roland Garros centre court would stage a red-blooded contest were sadly disappointed.
Even so, it would be churlish not to salute the achievement of the sisters, particularly Serena, who was collecting her second grand slam crown having won the 1999 US Open. She now moves on to Wimbledon with every prospect of becoming the first player since Steffi Graf in 1996 to add the grass-court game's greatest prize to the premier clay-court championship.
The conspiracy theorists surely underestimate the difficulties that two sisters as palpably close as the Williamses have in giving full vent to their competitive drive in matches against each other.
The closeness of the relationship between the sisters, who share a home in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, and are the two youngest of five female siblings, is never more evident than at the end of their matches when it's hard not to feel you are intruding on a moment of private communion.
On this occasion, Serena, having beaten her sister for only the third time in their eight meetings, stood for a moment in quiet disbelief before moving to the net to wrap Venus in a warm embrace. Venus then emphasised that this was very much a family occasion by going to the stands to collect a camera from a friend, before joining the press photographers shooting the presentation of the trophy to Serena.
Valiantly, Serena attempted to address the crowd, who had found it hard to get behind either player in an error-strewn contest, in French. But after a few sentences she sensibly reverted to her mother tongue and thanked Venus 'for supporting me the whole way and being the best sister in the whole world'.
Richard Williams, as usual, did not come to Paris, but his estranged wife, Oracene, was in the VIP enclosure and beamed an indulgent smile -- as a mother should - as her daughters collected their prizes. There was a cheque for £475,300 for Serena and one for £237,650 for Venus.
But it had hardly been a contest to relish with both players noticeably unable to give of their best. In the 21 games, there were 13 breaks of serve with Venus holding only three times in what must have been one of the of direst serving performances in a grand slam final.
Venus, who regains the world number-one ranking after this tournament, with Serena also overtaking Jennifer Capriati to move into second place (as foretold by père Williams many Florida moons ago), had the more straightforward passage to the final, not dropping a set and comfortably mastering the one opponent who might have upset her, the sixth seed Monica Seles.
Serena, on the other hand, contrived to drop a set against the 17-year-old Russian qualifier Vera Zvonareva in the fourth round and then came through a drainingly competitive semi-final against Capriati, who, characteristically, gave up her title only after a monumental scrap.
Venus, though, looked like the one who had been put through the wringer in the earlier rounds as she let slip two doubles faults in the first game to drop serve straightaway. After falling behind 2-0, she did manage to rally for a 4-2 lead but it was her only period of dominance in the match.
Not only was her serve not working, but her groundstrokes also lacked their usual depth and penetration. Serena played the best tennis of the match to jump into a 3-0 lead at the start of the second set and, although she wobbled slightly to see her lead cut to 4-3, Venus produced a suitably incompetent service game to close out the match.
Even though it was an all-American final, this year's French Open has demonstrated the extraordinary strength in depth of the women's game in Europe, particularly eastern Europe, where the fall of the totalitarian regimes has not left sport in the same dilapidated condition as some other sectors that were formerly state-sponsored. Now, a combination of central funding and private enterprise, attracted by sport's huge financial possibilities, has made Europe the game's powerhouse.
Of the last 32 in the women's singles in Paris, 21 were from Europe, including four Russians (none of them Anna Kournikova) and three Slovakians. Perhaps the most exciting of these is Daniela Hantuchova, a 19-year-old from Bratislava in Slovakia, who dropped only 13 games in winning her first three matches - fewer than Capriati - before succumbing to the wiles of Seles.
Hantuchova, a statuesque 5ft 11in, took a set off Venus Williams at this year's Australian Open - 'She makes you realise the places where you have to work a little bit harder,' said an admiring Venus - and easily beat Martina Hingis in the final in Indian Wells in March.
If there is a player among the rising generation capable of preventing a Williams oligarchy dominating the first decade of the 21st century then Hantuchova seems most likely to be the one.
"For now, Roddick seems to play with the intelligence of a fence post."
Greg Couch, Chicago Sun Times