Mauresmo out to break the Williams monopoly
By John Roberts at Flushing Meadows
06 September 2002
Musing about the Williams sisters' monopoly of women's tennis, Lindsay Davenport said yesterday: "Imagine if Tiger Woods had a little brother that was always going down the 18th neck-and-neck with him." It is easier to imagine Aretha Franklin, the "Queen of Soul," singing "America" at the United States Open tomorrow night as Venus and Serena Williams stand by to play in the women's singles final, as they did after Diana Ross exercised her voice here last year.
Venus won that one, a tame affair, almost as dull as Serena's win against Venus in this year's French Open final in Paris, where Serena also supplanted her elder sister as the world No 1. Although Wimbledon inspired the siblings to go for each other's throat, at least metaphorically, with Serena victorious, four Williams triumphs in the last five Grand Slam championships (Jennifer Capriati intervened in Australia) seems a phenomenon too far.
"I think," Amelie Mauresmo ventured, "it's going to get boring to see always the same final, but I can't speak for the public. To me, it gets a little bit irritating, because you want to go out there and beat these guys." Davenport and Mauresmo get that easier-said-than-done opportunity in the semi-finals today: Davenport, the fourth seed, plays Serena, and Mauresmo, the 10th seed, plays Venus. The portents for upsets are not good. Davenport, who has lost eight of her 10 matches against Serena, including two out of three at the US Open, is only just back in her stride after missing half the season recovering from knee surgery. Mauresmo, who has lost her four matches against Venus, is battling fatigue and tradition: no Frenchwoman has ever reached a singles final at the United States Championships.
"I really think it is one of my better achievements just to come back and get to the semis of a Grand Slam," Davenport said. "I was just hoping to play here. I've had a favourable draw against players who haven't been highly ranked, and I'm still a contender. I haven't hesitated in saying the Williams sisters are definitely at a level above everyone else. It's a huge challenge for me. If I lose, I could walk away with that, but I really don't want to go home with that attitude."
Mauresmo is only the second French player to advance to the semi-finals, the other being Françoise Durr, who lost to Billie Jean King in 1967. The great Suzanne Lenglen only played in the championships once, in 1921. Her first-round opponent, Eleanor Goss, of the United States, withdrew from the match because of illness, and Lenglen, who had whooping cough, retired in the second round when losing, 6-2, 40-0, to the American Molla Mallory. American reporters nicknamed the French diva "Cough and Quit" Lenglen.
By defeating Jennifer Capriati in the quarter-finals, Mauresmo denied the tournament its first all-American women's semi-finals since 1981. Does she have the wherewithal to prevent Venus from progressing to a third consecutive Grand Slam final? "I'll try," Mauresmo promised. "Physically, I wasn't feeling so well when I played Jennifer. Playing Venus is going to be very tough, but I will take my chances, that's for sure."
Andre Agassi was talking about safety pins yesterday, though not in relation to changing the nappies of his son, Jaden Gil. "The first time I ever played Lleyton [Hewitt], he was wearing a safety pin in his shorts to hold them up," Agassi said. "I'm not kidding. I actually think there was a safety pin on each side." That was in Adelaide, Hewitt's home town, in January 1998, when the skinny Australian recorded the first of his four wins against Agassi. Hewitt has also won the last three, including last month's quarter-final in Cincinnati, a confidence-booster for their US Open semi-final tomorrow.
"I was coming back from 140 in the world at the time I played Lleyton in Adelaide," Agassi recalled, "and I think he was around 110. I didn't believe that he was my opponent. He just seemed like he had had a couple of strings hanging from his shoes. He was very young and just went out there and ended up playing a great match. That was my first tournament in 1998."
Hewitt, now 21, the Wimbledon champion, defending US Open champion, and the world No 1, has become hotter and his tennis is better. The admiration he had for Agassi in boyhood has become mutual. "His overall movement and shot selection are particularly impressive," the 32-year-old Agassi said. "He's a disciplined tennis player. He makes good decisions out there." Tomorrow's contest is their first at a Grand Slam. "He's in great shape, I don't care what age he is," Hewitt said. "I can't recall too many matches that Andre's lost because of his fitness. I beat him a couple of weeks ago in Cincinatti, but we both can throw all those past results out the window."
Sjeng Schalken, of the Netherlands, seeded No 24, advanced to the semi-finals last night, defeating Fernando Gonzalez, of Chile, the 28th seed, 6-7, 6-3, 6-3, 6-7, 7-6. Schalken won the fifth-set tie-break 7-2, to earn a match against either Peter Sampras or Andy Roddick.