Posted on Sun, Mar. 30, 2003
No stopping Serena
Williams extends reach, undefeated streak with win over Capriati
BY MICHELLE KAUFMAN
THE CHAMPION: Serena Williams continues her tear in 2003, defeating Jennifer Capriati 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 on Saturday to win the NASDAQ-100 Open women's singles title.
They waited nearly three hours in the stifling heat Saturday afternoon, hanging over parking-lot barriers, waving pens and Serena Williams Barbie dolls, posters and magazine covers.
Sixty people. Fifty-seven of them black. Not your typical tennis crowd.
Andre Agassi was playing on Stadium Court, beating Albert Costa 6-2, 6-4 for a berth in today's 11 a.m. men's final against Carlos Moya.
But those fans in the Crandon Park parking lot didn't care.
They were waiting for one of the most powerful, recognizable female athletes in the world to emerge from the stadium tunnel after collecting her second straight NASDAQ-100 Open title, another crystal bowl and a $393,000 check -- rewards for spoiling Jennifer Capriati's 27th birthday with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory.
It was Williams' 17th straight win this season and her seventh straight over Capriati. She is 61-4 -- including titles at the French Open, Wimbledon, U.S. Open and Australian Open -- since winning this title a year ago. Her career earnings closed in on $11 million, and that's not counting the millions she gets from endorsements.
A white Cadillac Escalade pulled up. A beefy bodyguard brought out Williams' bags and placed them in the car. A young woman climbed into the passenger seat. And then, Williams strolled out, decked in jeans, rhinestone-studded flip-flops and a black tank top that said ''Bonita'' across the front.
Her fans -- most of them women -- shrieked. Williams made her way over and signed about 30 autographs. Then she climbed into the driver's seat, shut the door and sped off onto Crandon Boulevard on Key Biscayne.
Those few minutes offered a glimpse of Williams' impact. It was also obvious during the two-hour slugfest with Capriati, which was witnessed by a more racially diverse crowd than one usually sees at major tennis events.
Her fans groaned with every one of her errors, and there were a lot of them. Forty-two, to be exact. Twenty-one of them in the second set alone. They roared after many of her 33 winning shots. They jeered when Capriati questioned a few line calls. And as it became obvious that Capriati had wilted in the third set, the Williams fans in the evenly divided crowd could hardly contain their giddiness.
Williams is beginning to understand what she and her sister, Venus, mean to the black community. They recently received the NAACP Image Award, which Serena said was an eye-opener.
''I might move my Wimbledon trophy aside and put that one where it is because it means so much to me,'' the 21-year-old Palm Beach Gardens resident said this week. ``I've gotten a lot of things in the past year, but I think that one's definitely the apex. We're so young. We've had a major impact. I don't even realize all the stuff we do.
'A lot of little girls are playing tennis, a lot of people are watching tennis, a lot of people are inspired, not only on the tennis court, but just inspired never to give up. When Denzel Washington came up to me and said, `This is what I've been waiting for the whole night, that's the only reason I'm here. I watch you every match. I can tell you what outfit you wore every match,' I was really, really shocked.''
One person who is not a member of the Williams fan club is Capriati. She has finished runner-up to a Williams at Key Biscayne three years in a row -- once to Venus, twice to Serena.
Capriati, one of the few women on tour with the power to keep up with the Williams sisters, was pumped for Saturday's final.
It was her birthday. She had played well all week. She was unusually relaxed.
And for one set, Capriati dominated.
She had only three unforced errors, served well, returned well and appeared to be on her way to an upset.
But the 85-degree heat, Williams' groundstrokes and seeds of doubt began to unravel Capriati.
''I came out playing great,'' Capriati said. ``For some reason, instead of keeping up that kind of level, I just back away. I don't know if it's a matter of me not believing that I can do it consistently for whatever it takes.''
Capriati also admitted she wasn't in tip-top shape. She took several weeks off for eye surgery in November and said she is just now getting close to peak form.
''It was pretty hot out there,'' Capriati said. ``It's tough chasing down her balls. Tennis-wise, I definitely can hang with her and match her shot for shot, but it's a matter of still getting in a little better shape and peaking.''
Williams said she noticed Capriati getting fatigued.
''I saw she was getting tired [in the third set], and I was just starting,'' Williams said.
About the only thing Williams did wrong Saturday was commit what could be construed as a faux pas at the post-match news conference. Williams, who loves Paris and speaks French, was asked her views of the anti-French sentiment in the United States.
She broke into a French accent. ''We don't want to play in the war, we want to make clothes,'' she said, smiling. ``But I don't want a war, either. I don't know many people who do want to be involved in war.''
A few journalists were offended by her joking tone.
But Williams isn't afraid to tackle anything in her path, on or off the court.