Williamses step into the gap left by the riveting Sampras-Agassi rivalry of the 90s - TennisForum.com
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Cool Williamses step into the gap left by the riveting Sampras-Agassi rivalry of the 90s




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Williamses step into the gap left by the riveting Sampras-Agassi rivalry of the 90s

NEW YORK - All this time American tennis fans have been looking for the next Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, yet they have been here all along, moving relentlessly ahead, into the final of another Grand Slam tournament, aiming for a second straight prime-time slugfest at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Meet Serena and Venus Williams, the Agassi and Sampras of the 21st century.

Serena, who beat a game Lindsay Davenport 6-3, 7-5, in the semi-finals on Friday, has owned this US Open the way Agassi used to dominate it in the 1990s.

These last two weeks have been about her outfits - the tight-fitting black catsuit, the strawberry-ice jackets, the very revealing pink shirt and short black skirt - and her dramatically-blond hair, sparkling tiara and her posing with hunky model Tyson Beckford.

Remember how it used to be with Agassi?

Fans were aghast when he came out with stone-washed denim shorts and flowing blond hair. They were stunned when he tried neon-coloured shirts and shorts, when he decided to shave his chest and then change his shirt quite dramatically.

Some reporters still have the official transcript of Brooke Shields - his former wife - interviews given in the official US Open press room, and then there was the Barbra Streisand Open, when more people trained binoculars on the players' box than on the court.

He enjoyed the attention, relished claiming his space on both the sports page and the gossip page, enjoyed raising eyebrows and causing some tsk-tsking among the more tradition-bound patrons of Flushing Meadows.

Serena has been happy to flash her muscles and her smile, to go out on the town and to own the stadium court on her own terms.
And Venus is Pete, graceful and stately, pleasant to talk to but unwilling to share much about herself.

She chooses a tasteful tennis dress of white and subdued blue, well-tailored but not dramatically revealing. Her hair colour is her own and her face remains in an unbending stare throughout her matches, even the tight three-setters she pulled out in the fourth round and semi-finals.

Serena goes out to dinner, and shows up on Page Six of the New York Post.

Venus has dinner delivered to her room and goes to bed.
It is part of what has made the Sampras-Agassi rivalry so compelling, the contrast in personality.

What has also made the Sampras-Agassi rivalry so compelling is the contrast in their games, the mystery of whether Sampras' attacking serve-and-volley style will break down Agassi's pummeling baseline power.

And that is the problem, more than anything, with hoping for a match of great competitive tennis between the Williamses.
With Venus and Serena, there are contrasting personalities but not contrasting styles.

It is clear that Venus, 22, and Serena, 20, are willing to play each other on their own terms now. Each is able to put her personal goals ahead of the feelings of the other.

'I want to win more than anything,' Serena said.

'I want another Open,' Venus said.

But it is hard for players with similar games, with big, pounding serves, with powerful groundstrokes, to produce a classic match.

'It's very tough to get a very good match with two power hitters,' Davenport said. 'Power hitters sometimes like the balls a little softer. And it's hard to get a rally going when they both have such huge serves.'

If Venus and Serena play a pedestrian match this morning (Singapore time), it will not be because one sister is unable to compete hard enough or that their father, Richard, decreed one sister should win or lose or any other conspiracy theory that seems almost silly now with the way the games and personalities have matured.

'I think we're capable of having that Sampras-Agassi rivalry,' Serena said. 'I think we're kind of building toward that rivalry. This is the fourth in the last five Grand Slams we've met. So I think we're really trying to get it built.'

If this morning's final is not a nail-biting, three-set masterpiece, it will be because the two hardest-hitting, biggest-serving players on the women's Tour are trying to out-hit each other. That will make for some spectacular points and some spectacular misses.

In watching Venus beat Amelie Mauresmo, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, and Serena beat Davenport, what was most impressive was the way each sister was able to reach a crucial moment, when the match might have turned, and summon nerveless serves.

Venus found herself down, 0-40, on her serve in the final game of the match. Mauresmo had found her rhythm in the second set and was putting pressure on the American.

But Venus cranked out a 185-kmh service winner; another 185-kmh serve to start a point that ended with a missed Mauresmo lob; a 182-kmh ace; a 195-kmh service winner and a neatly-angled second serve that forced the Frenchwoman into a wide forehand.

When Davenport had three set points on Serena's serve in the second set, the latter blasted three service winners, placing the ball in different spots at different speeds.

Today will be the second annual Williams-Williams prime-time US Open final. That makes a rivalry too, a compelling rivalry, one of familial angst and history-making interest. Some day, it may be as good as what Pete and Andre have offered. Just different. --New York Times

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