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CHOCO
Jun 8th, 2002, 06:30 AM
June 08, 2002

Sisters keep on doing it for themselves
By Neil Harman, Tennis Correspondent in Paris



IT IS cent pour cent Williams. The sisters have the stage to themselves in Paris’s 16th arrondissement today and a month from now they will probably have it again in London SW19.
The intriguing sub-plot to today’s women’s final of the French Open is that Venus and Serena will be the top two seeds at Wimbledon later this month. Another showdown beckons there and, unless Jennifer Capriati gets the Parisian grit out of her teeth and offers some kind of challenge on the grass, the pair will be in command of affairs at the US Open come September.

The United States Tennis Association is in negotiation with CBS Television, the network that runs (sorry, covers) the US Open to play the women’s final this year on Monday night — in a direct challenge to Monday Night Football on the rival ABC network. Monday night, shmonday night, the No 1 and No 2 in the world won’t care.

Who is there to challenge them? Capriati can regather her forces but she has lost her past five matches against Serena and not beaten Venus in four meetings. To win Wimbledon and the US Open is the top of Capriati’s wish-list, the two grand-slam events not yet in her locker. Martina Hingis had been blown out of the water as a challenger long before the saga of her left foot that culminated in a career-saving operation three weeks ago.

The rumour from Switzerland is that she may not be ready even for the US Open in August.

Lindsay Davenport is scheduled to play in the Britannic Assurance Management tournament in Eastbourne the week after next, but she cannot be expected to click into gear after seven months off recovering from a knee operation. Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin left Paris licking their respective wounds, Monica Seles and Mary Pierce have had their day. The quality of the base may be expanding but not quick enough to match the accelerating improvement at the top.

“We feel we have come a long way,” Venus said. “We have reached the best of our profession which is what we always aimed to do. I’d like to stay No 1 but I’d like to see Serena No 1 also. I’m not giving it up but I’m sure she’ll get there. Serena has been playing real well, intensity level, running well. We’ll be running down a lot of balls.

“We live a great life, have great opportunities that most people don’t have. I’ve had a great experience at the French this year. I wanted to do better because I thought I had a jinx at this tournament — there are some on the tour where you always lose in the first or second rounds. I didn’t want this to become one of them.”

The sisters will strongly argue that they do not take matches like today’s duel for the Suzanne Lenglen trophy for granted, that they have to be earned through an earnest determination which the rest have to copy. Neither had been beyond the quarter-finals here in previous attempts (five for Venus, three for Serena) but Serena said before this championship: “I am now a clay-courter, pure and simple.” If her form is maintained, the 20-year-old should win but the course of sisterly love does not always run true to the formbook.

Since Venus did the big sister thing in their first three meetings, the official record shows that they have split victories — although that list includes a match that never took place, the semi-final in Indian Wells in March last year, when Venus withdrew five minutes before she was due to face her sister, a misdemeanour that sparked a furious reaction from the Californian crowd and inspired Richard Williams to say that his daughters would never play the championship again.

Even matches they don’t play against each other get people’s backs up. Every nuance will be monitored today. Kevin Wulff, who became chief executive officer of the Sanex WTA Tour in January, has heard the conspiracy theories. “People need something to talk about,” Wulff said. “Our staff dismisses it, they know how hard the girls train and prepare, if they are competing against each other or not. Everyone has dismissed it. It’s an old story. People trying to find something wrong are going to have a tough time.

“The first few matches between them were the big/little sister thing, but Serena is maturing all the time. She is such a dedicated person, who has continued to improve and work on her weaknesses. They both have a wonderful competitive spirit, they are diverse on and off the court.”

Did Wulff know that Richard Williams had once suggested changing the name of the organisation he runs to the “Williams Tennis Association”? “The first time I met Richard, he kept congratulating me for becoming involved in women’s tennis,” Wulff said. “I know what he means.”

GO VENUS AND SERENA!!!