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Belgian break: Serena, Venus won't be there
Williamses' absence buoys hope for Clijsters, Henin-Hardenne
August 24 2003
Miami Herald

Power has been restored in New York, but the U.S. Open women's field is hardly as electric this year without defending champion Serena Williams, who is recovering from knee surgery, or her sister, Venus, who pulled out Friday with a nagging abdominal strain.

No buzz about another possible all-Williams final. Nobody quaking at the sight of Serena's power and speed. No Richard Williams filling reporters' notebooks.

And, much to the chagrin of fashion writers and photographers, no cat suits or dangling hoop earrings.

This is all good news for No. 1 Kim Clijsters, who is 1-8 against Serena Williams all-time, 0-4 against the sisters this year and seeking to justify her ranking with a first Grand Slam title.

Clijsters is the only No. 1 in history without a Grand Slam title on her r?sum?. In the United States, fans know her mostly as Lleyton Hewitt's girlfriend, but she would like to change that.

'It's a very special feeling to be No. 1, and it's nice to hear `No. 1' when they announce you on court at the beginning of a match,'' Clijsters said in a news conference. ``But, of course, winning a Grand Slam motivates me very much.''

Justine Henin-Hardenne isn't crying, either, at the thought of a Serena-free U.S. Open. The last time those two met, at the French Open semifinals, things got ugly. Williams left the court in tears, serenaded by loud boos, as the crowd turned on the champion and celebrated the gritty Belgian. The crowds at Flushing Meadow can get raucous, so Henin-Hardenne could be in for an unfriendly reception, but it would be even worse if she were playing Williams.

With the Williams sisters out of commission, Henin-Hardenne's main worry is countrywoman and rival Clijsters, whom she beat twice in the past few months. Henin-Hardenne and Clijsters have been bickering recently after Clijsters accused Henin-Hardenne of abusing an injury timeout in the final of the Acura Classic earlier this month.

Clijsters won the first set of that match, but Henin-Hardenne regrouped after taking a timeout to nurse a blister.

''Without Serena playing, she [Henin-Hardenne] is the main challenger, but there are other players who would like to get a win there, too,'' Clijsters said. ``If I'm going to challenge her, it's going to be in the semis or the final, and if I play her, I'm definitely looking forward to revenge.''

Asked about their feud, Clijsters said: ``There is no problem with Justine, we just have two different characters.''

A Williams sister has won the past four U.S. titles, and Venus would have liked to have kept that tradition alive. She lost to her younger sister 6-4, 6-3 in last year's final, and also lost to Serena at Wimbledon last month after battling through the match with an abdominal strain that has bothered her since April. Serena has beaten Venus in four of the past six Grand Slam finals.

The elder Williams is a two-time U.S. Open champion (2000, 2001), two-time runner-up (1997, 2002), has a 35-4 career singles record at Flushing Meadow and was considered a favorite.

But her withdrawal opens the door for other contenders, such as Jennifer Capriati, Lindsay Davenport, Amelie Mauresmo, Chanda Rubin and a group of top 30 Russian newcomers whose names will be more familiar in years to come -- Anastasia Myskina, Vera Zvonareva, Elena Dementieva, Elena Bovina, Nadia Petrova and Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Capriati, a New York favorite, won her first title in 18 months on Saturday. During last year's U.S. Open, her biggest headlines came in the tabloids after a night of partying. She has the power to dominate on hard courts, but the question is her confidence and desire.

Davenport, the 1998 winner, should never be dismissed, though a nagging foot injury has hampered her this season.

But no matter who wins this year, the women's field will lack voltage. Some fans and players thought the all-Williams finals were getting boring. They're about to find out what tennis would be like without Serena and Venus, and they might not like it.
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