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QueenO
Jun 18th, 2002, 04:05 PM
Venus Enjoys Favorable Wimbledon Draw


Venus Williams By Richard Pagliaro
06/18/2002


Thunder and lightning preceded reign at Wimbledon last year as Venus Williams unleashed lightning-fast serves to storm through the women's draw and continue her reign as Wimbledon champion. The draws for the grass-court Grand Slam were released today and the forecast is clear for Williams to reach her third consecutive Wimbledon final.



Wimbledon starts on Monday and the top-seeded Williams will begin the defense of her title against British wild card Jane O'Donoghue. Of the seven seeds planted in Williams' quarter of the draw — Kim Clijsters (5), Silvia Farina Elia (10), Lisa Raymond (16), Patty Schnyder (17), Magdalena Maleeva (19), Paola Suarez (28), and Amanda Coetzer (32) — only Clijsters and Raymond have advanced to the quarterfinals. If the seeds hold true to form Williams would meet Clijsters in the quarterfinals and while Clijsters beat Williams 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the final of the Betty Barclay Cup on clay last month, the 19-year-old Belgian has been hampered by a strained serving shoulder that may have contributed to her 6-4, 6-0 third-round loss to unseeded Clarissa Fernandez at Roland Garros. Even at full strength, Clijsters may not have the weapons to pose a serious threat on grass to Williams, who has won 22 of her 25 career matches at Wimbledon and enters the event with a 14-match winning streak at the All England Club.

Another Belgian — 2001 Wimbledon runner-up Justine Henin — could be Williams' semifinal opponent in a rematch of the 2001 final, which Williams won 6-1, 3-6, 6-0.

The sixth-seeded Henin, who upset fourth-seeded Jennifer Capriati 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 in the 2001 semifinals, opens against American Brie Rippner. Fourth-seeded Monica Seles, 12th-seeded Elena Dementieva and 15th-seeded Anna Smashnova are the highest seeds in Henin's quarter of the draw, but none of the three have enjoyed much grass court success in recent years. Since her 1992 runner-up effort to Steffi Graf, Seles has played Wimbledon five times, reaching the quarterfinals twice, the third round twice and the second round once. The low bounce on grass doesn't suit Seles' strike zone and her inability to volley effectively prevents her from finishing points at the net. Dementieva has won only two matches in three Wimbledon appearances and Smashnova has been a first-round loser in five of her seven career Wimbledon appearances.

Thailand's Tamarine Tanasugarn, who is seeded 20th, 29th-seeded Austrian Barbara Schett and Russian teenager Vera Zvonareva are among the players who could emerge as challengers in Henin's quarter of the draw. One of the few women adept at serve-and-volley tennis, Tanasugarn has reached the fourth round four consecutive years. Schett has struggled this season, but reached the fourth round in 1999, owns a strong serve and hits hard enough to pose problems for opposing players. An emotionally expressive player, Zvonareva took a set off eventual French Open champion Serena Williams at Roland Garros.

Seeking her third career Grand Slam championship, second-seeded Serena Williams opens the tournament against Australia's Evie Dominikovic. The French Open champion could face some challenging — though inexperienced — opponents in her quarter. Argentina's Clarissa Fernandez, the No. 30 seed, reached the Roland Garros semis before falling to Venus Williams and could play Serena in Wimbledon's third round. Fernadez's left-handed serve could prove to be problematic though she probably lacks the power to prevent Serena from reaching the quarterfinals. In the quarters, Williams could play either seventh-seeded Jelena Dokic or 11th-seeded Daniela Hantuchova.

Grass has been Dokic's domain throughout her career. She has won 12 of her 15 career Wimbledon matches, reached the quarterfinals in 1999, the semifinals in 2000 and the fourth round last year. Dokic enters Wimbledon fresh off capturing her first career grass-court title as she defeated Anastasia Myskina 6-2, 6-3 to win the DFS Classic championship on Sunday.

"The win definitely gives me a lot of confidence for Wimbledon," the 19-year-old Dokic said. "I've won tournaments on all surfaces except grass, but I've always done well at Wimbledon. I played well all week and even when I was pushed, I got through break points and tiebreaks and I felt mentally very good."

In her Wimbledon debut last year, Hantuchova lost in the second round, but went on to win the Wimbledon mixed doubles title and her willingness to attack the net behind a big serve and strong strokes make her a grass-court threat.

Should Serena prevail in the quarterfinals she would like face a familiar face in the semifinals: third-seeded Jennifer Capriati. The two-time Australian Open champion defeated Williams 6-7 (4-7), 7-5, 6-3 in the 2001 quarterfinals, but Serena has scored five consecutive victories over Capriati, including a three-set win over the 2001 French Open champion in the Roland Garros semifinals earlier this month