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Mr. Man
Apr 7th, 2003, 12:22 AM
S. Williams Tries to Extend Streak on Clay at Family Circle

By PETE IACOBELLI
.c The Associated Press

CHARLESTON, S.C. (April 6) -- Here's some bad news for the WTA Tour -- Serena Williams is looking forward to playing on clay this week at the Family Circle Cup.

Williams, 17-0 this season with victories at the Australian, Gaz de France and Nasdaq-100 opens, doesn't think the different surface will slow her down.

"Actually, clay, I think, is better for your knee because the hard court actually wears your body out,'' said Williams, ranked No. 1 in the world since July 8. "So it'll be easy. ... I'll be happy.''

Williams played for the first time here last year. She was ranked seventh in the world then and lost to Patty Schnyder in the quarterfinals.

Few could have guessed that Williams was only weeks away from starting her "Serena Slam'' -- she holds all four Grand Slams titles -- at Roland Garros.

Her preparations for a French Open defense start on Daniel Island.

"It was just a really nice atmosphere and a nice feel, and it was kind of cool,'' Williams said. "And I definitely look forward to going back.''

Others entered this week are Jennifer Capriati, who won the 2001 title; Lindsay Davenport; Justine Henin-Hardenne and defending champion Iva Majoli.

Williams has had an up-and-down history at this event. She was committed to play in 2000, but withdrew because South Carolina flew the Confederate flag atop its Statehouse dome. The flag has since been removed, although the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has continued its economic boycott of the state.

The civil rights group plans to protest the flag at this year's tennis tournament.

When Williams arrived to play a year ago, she was met by an enthusiastic crowd that did not seem concerned with her defiance of the NAACP's boycott.

"People were actually cheering for me to win,'' she remembered. "And it was a lot of African-Americans who came out.''

With her perfect start, Williams has been asked whether she can go undefeated.

"You have to understand, I don't expect to reach that because I mean if I do, that would just be unbelievable,'' she said.

Martina Navratilova came the closest with an 86-1 mark in 1983.

Williams has met lofty goals before. After withdrawing from the Australian Open in 2002 with an ankle injury, Williams told herself she would win the other three Grand Slams. With all four titles in her trophy case, Williams gave herself a more daunting goal.

"I wanted to set my goals high,'' she said. "Whatever happens, happens.''

And Daniel Island looks like a good, pressure-free place to keep the streak going. Williams says the softer clay will help her rebound from the difficult hard-court season so far. She has practiced on clay courts at her father's home.

"I'll be, you know, running and just sliding and playing lazy tennis because on the clay I just tend to lay back. I love playing on that surface,'' Williams said.

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