Justine: Women's Tennis Is More Than Venus and Serena
Without a Williams, No. 1 Clijsters has best shot at first major
By HOWARD FENDRICH
.c The Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) - The sounds bounced loudly off the thousands of empty blue seats as workers armed with drills and hammers put the finishing touches on Arthur Ashe Stadium, 24 hours before the start of the U.S. Open.
On the court below, Kim Clijsters wasn't fazed a bit.
The No. 1-ranked player in women's tennis swapped sizzling practice strokes with Jelena Dokic, smacking one on-the-mark shot after another. Clijsters found time to smile, too, breaking the monotony by kicking a ball at the end of an exchange or spinning around to try to hit a shot with her back to the net.
Clijsters never does seem to get rattled - until the latter stages of a major tournament, that is. Now, with nary a Williams around, the Belgian has a perfect opportunity to add a Grand Slam title to her otherwise sterling resume.
``Especially now with Venus and Serena pulling out, I think a lot of players are definitely believing more in their chances, are even extra motivated,'' Clijsters said.
Replacing Serena Williams at No. 1, Clijsters added Sunday, ``has definitely drawn more attention to me. But personally, those things are not going to change the way I prepare, the way I feel, the way I look toward my tennis matches.''
Serena and Venus Williams, who split the past four Open championships, are out with injuries. So is 1991-92 winner Monica Seles. And several other potential contenders are here but hurting, including 1998 Open champion Lindsay Davenport and Amelie Mauresmo, a semifinalist last year.
Along with Clijsters, the two strongest candidates for a first U.S. Open victory are probably No. 2-seeded Justine Henin-Hardenne and No. 6 Jennifer Capriati.
Capriati won a hard-court tuneup tournament Saturday in New Haven, Conn., for her first title since January 2002. But Capriati's opponents in the semifinal (Mauresmo) and final (Davenport) quit with ailments.
``It's very tough. The season is very long,'' French Open champion Henin-Hardenne said. ``Everybody's getting tired a little bit right now. Injuries can come.''
Clijsters was dogged by right shoulder problems last season, but she's remained remarkably healthy in 2003, playing more than twice as many events as either Williams sister and reaching the semifinals at 14 of 15 tournaments.
``If you have good preparation, I don't think you should be getting injured,'' said Svetlana Kuznetsova, who's seeded 27th in singles and plays doubles with Martina Navratilova. ``For example, Kim surprises me. She plays so many matches, and she's OK.''
She's never won a major, but Clijsters does take a 68-10 record and six titles (tied with Henin-Hardenne for the tour lead) into her opening match Monday night against Amber Liu, who won the 2003 NCAA singles championship for Stanford.
Clijsters' boyfriend, former No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt, will follow her into Arthur Ashe Stadium on Monday and face Victor Hanescu. Hewitt (the 2001 champion) and Andre Agassi (1994, 1999) are the only men entered who have won the U.S. Open.
No. 1 Agassi and No. 4 Andy Roddick have Monday off, while those scheduled to play include Davenport, Mauresmo and French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero.
A lot of attention, though, will be focused on someone without a racket: Pete Sampras. He hasn't played a match since beating Agassi in last year's final at the National Tennis Center and is formally announcing his retirement Monday evening.
``It's not a big shock for all of us, because he hasn't been playing,'' said No. 2 Roger Federer, trying to become the first man to win Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in the same year since Sampras in 1995. ``Still, it's a pity that he's leaving.''
No one dominates men's tennis now the way Sampras did when he was finishing No. 1 in the rankings a record six straight years in the 1990s.
Each of the past seven majors has been won by a different man, the second-longest streak in the Open era. More strikingly, this could be the third straight year that the eight finalist spots at Grand Slams were filled by eight men.
Now the women will see what it's like at a wide open tournament after five all-Williams finals at the past six Grand Slams.
``Women's tennis is not only about Venus and Serena,'' said Henin-Hardenne, never past the fourth round at Flushing Meadows. ``You have other players behind them. It's very important to accept that.''
Still, as 52nd-ranked Ashley Harkleroad said about Team Williams: ``I don't know if anybody will be able to create a buzz like they create. I'm sure it's going to be missed a lot.''
08/24/03 17:36 EDT
Copyright 2003 The Associated Press.
It is obvious to anyone with average intelligence that tennis is more than Venus and Serena. But I find it interesting that Justine considers herself (and the other players) behind Venus and Serena, especially Venus since she is ranked lower than Justine at the moment.
Last edited by lizchris; Aug 24th, 2003 at 11:31 PM.