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DeDe4925
Apr 21st, 2004, 05:23 AM
"Venus win brings Cup full circle

BY GENE SAPAKOFF
The Post and Courier

Just when it looked like the 2004 Family Circle Cup might disintegrate into an episode of "ER," along came an international incident, an outbreak of great tennis and 47-year-old Martina Navratilova playing both singles and doubles while finding time to zing George W. Bush, John Daly and Jay Haas. She also used her Puppy Park clout to help stray dogs find homes.

Nothing, however, compared to the comeback show produced by one Venus Ebony Starr Williams, who out-gunned and out-smarted crafty Conchita Martinez in Sunday's final, winning 2-6, 6-2, 6-1.

Spain beat the English and French to South Carolina but Spain's best player couldn't keep the Randy Johnson of women's tennis from winning her first title in 14 months.

"She's really tall," Martinez said of the 6-1, 160-pound Williams, "so the ball comes a little differently."

SWISS DISS

The contrast in style during the final was as different as South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford and Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr., who sat together during the match and did the post-match ceremony thing; Martinez is the ultimate clay-court boxer and Williams the slugger more comfortable on faster surfaces.

Just think how good the tournament will be next year when Justine Henin-Hardenne doesn't suddenly return to Belgium with a virus infection and Serena Williams is able to play longer than one 35-minute match before succumbing to knee pain.

And how many tennis tournaments have Swiss and Spanish players exchanging barbs in English?

Patty Schnyder after her semifinal loss on Saturday extended a congratulatory hand to Martinez and then pulled it away in protest of Martinez' superstitious ball retrieval habits.

The Swiss diss brought the loudest chorus of boos in Daniel Island's four-year Family Circle Cup history.

47-BY-40

Everybody won Sunday.

Martinez, 32, hasn't won a title in four years. A Conchita final was nice news in Spain, still aching from a horrific subway bombing.

The Venus victory so early in her comeback after a five-month layoff forced by an abdominal strain means she is a favorite among an injury-riddled top 20 going into next month's French Open.

The real winners were the Family Circle Cup -- a Daniel Island attendance record of 91,410 -- and South Carolina. Earlier in the week, the Club Court was renamed to honor Althea Gibson, the late South Carolina-born tennis pioneer who was the first black player to win titles at the U.S. Open and Wimbledon.

Some people thought something more significant should have been named after Gibson.

Somewhere, however, she must be proud to know that, per tournament tradition, a 47-by-40-foot poster of the reigning champ will be unveiled outside the stadium court.

"I've never had so much support in a city I've gone to," Venus Williams told the crowd. "In fact, I had to get used to it."

South Carolina tennis just came full circle. "