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topspin
Jan 24th, 2004, 01:29 PM
http://sports.espn.go.com/tennis/fr...06/1564479.html (http://sports.espn.go.com/tennis/french03/s/2003/0606/1564479.html)

Friday, July 18, 2003

The Williamses will be back again

Associated Press

PARIS -- Mark it down: At least one Williams sister, and quite possibly both, will play in the Wimbledon final next month.

That's because nothing seems to drive them more than disappointment.

At the French Open on Saturday, for the first time since January 2002, the scoreboard at a Grand Slam final won't read Williams-Williams. Instead, the matchup will be Belgian vs. Belgian (Justine Henin-Hardenne vs. Kim Clijsters).

Serena lost to Henin-Hardenne in the semifinals; Venus lost to Vera Zvonareva in the fourth round. Both siblings were booed as they brusquely walked off center court.

Henin-Hardenne was among the first players to say last year that it would be better for tennis if Team Williams' dominance was thwarted. On Friday, she offered this observation:

"Everybody's happy today but the Williams sisters.''

How's that for bulletin-board material?

It's tough to tell whether being on the wrong side of the scores or the fans' antipathy hurt the siblings more. It's enough to know that they hurt.

"I don't try to console them,'' said their mother and coach, Oracene Price. "They both hate to lose.''

Who can forget Venus' sullen expression in the stands as she watched little sis win the family's first Grand Slam title at the 1999 U.S. Open? Venus, beaten in the semifinals, appeared to be thinking: "Shouldn't the older sister be the groundbreaker?''

Venus responded by winning four of the next eight majors.

When Serena lost to Venus in the 2001 U.S. Open final, falling behind 4-1 in Grand Slam trophies, she responded by increasing her commitment and going on a 33-match winning streak at majors, with four titles.

"I wanted to change,'' Serena said. "I was tired of being at a certain level. When Venus became No. 1, that motivated me.''

Serena is now No. 1, but Clijsters and Henin-Hardenne will be ahead of No. 4 Venus in Monday's rankings. That, more than anything, could prevent an all-in-the-family final at the All England Club: The draw could put the sisters in the same half of the field.

In any case, Venus has to work on her game to get back to the top. For Serena, this probably was a minor blip -- her strokes, point construction and court coverage make her the class of the women's game.

At Roland Garros on Thursday, Serena allowed her veneer of invincibility to drop, on the court and off.

She wiped away tears while talking about the way spectators clapped when she faulted during the 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 loss -- a breach of tennis etiquette, certainly, and a breach of good sense, too.

"Deep down, it kind of hurts,'' Serena said.

She and her mother discounted racism as a factor in the crowd's behavior. More likely, they said, it was a case of rooting for the underdog. Another element: Henin-Hardenne is from a neighboring country, and dozens of black-red-and-yellow Belgian flags flapped in the upper deck.

One thing that turned fans against Williams was when she questioned calls, even if the chair umpire agreed with her and overruled line judges. Fans jeered Martin Verkerk and Guillermo Coria when they protested calls during their semifinal Friday.

The crowd booed Martina Hingis so lustily during her 1999 French Open final loss to Steffi Graf that Hingis sobbed in her mother's arms and had to be coaxed back on court for the trophy ceremony. Hingis never won another Grand Slam tournament.

The Williams sisters, though, have more mettle. They have heard similar -- and worse -- from fans in the past.

During the Australian Open semifinals, Williams was booed when she called for a trainer to treat foot blisters. Williams was down 5-1 in the third set, and faced match points, but won.

At Indian Wells, Calif., in 2001, Williams was booed in the final, and her father said he heard racist taunts. Spectators were angry that Venus pulled out of an all-Williams semifinal with an injury. Serena won the tournament.

Asked about Thursday's crowd, Serena said: "It's a little difficult. All my life I've had to fight. So it's just another fight I'm going to have to learn how to win.''

Later, dabbing a finger at her eyes, she said, "I just have to be able to be a little stronger next time.''

Henin-Hardenne is responsible for two of Serena's three losses in 2003, all on clay. As the Belgian acknowledged, the soft surface dulls power, while grass and hard courts enhance it.

The last six U.S. Opens and Wimbledons have been won by a Williams.

"I enjoy the challenge, you know? I really do,'' Serena said. "I have something to look forward to when I play my next tournament at Wimbledon.''

Mark that down.