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Venus and Serena Show draws fans, non-fans
April 27 2003
Lowell SUN

LOWELL Standing in front of their second-row seats, Westford residents Sharon Weaver, Mary Jane Raine and Karen Kearns danced to the beat of "Twist and Shout," twirling tiny U.S. flags on wooden sticks and shaking red, white and blue pom pons high over their heads.

Suddenly they stopped, craned their necks and exploded with excitement.

"Serena!" the three screeched in unison, as top female tennis player Serena Williams emerged just a few feet away, walking onto the Tsongas Arena court and into thundering applause.

"It's wonderful. The atmosphere here is just unbelievable," said Raine, a tennis enthusiast who attended the Federation Cup yesterday with friends she plays tennis with.

The Cup, a two-day event held for the first time in Lowell, pits top female tennis players from the U.S. against the Czech Republic. Yesterday's first-round showdown featured dynamic duo Serena and Venus Williams, sisters who rank number one and number three in the world respectively.

Playing the first match of the day yesterday, Venus Williams overwhelmed the Czech's best hope for a victory, defeating Daja Bedanova, 6-1, 6-0. Sister Serena then followed with a 7-5, 6-1 victory over Iveta Benesova.

The sisters will swap opponents when action continues today (1 p.m., Tsongas Arena). A fifth match of doubles will then be contested, regardless of whether the U.S. has clinched victory or not. The Williams sisters are scheduled to play in doubles, but that may change if the U.S. victory has been secured.

King may go with Alexandra Stevenson and Meghann Shaughnessy in doubles if the U.S. has clinched.

Venus Williams took care of business in just 48 minutes yesterday against Bedanova. After each player held serve at 1-1 in the opening set, Venus ran the table, winning 11 straight games to earn the straight set victory.

"She played amazing tennis," admitted Bedanova. "I played some good tennis. Unfortunately, I had some chances I didn't use."

Bedanova didn't help her cause on first serve either, converting just 49 percent and earning just eight points on the first serves she did put in play.

"I knew that to have a chance, I'd have to at least get a lead in each of the sets," Bedanova said. "But I didn't get that."

After blitzing through the rest of the first set for a 6-1 victory, Venus Williams turned on the jets in the second set, breaking Bedanova's serve to open the set and then rolling to victory, putting an emphatic end to the match with a love game.

"I really, really wanted to play well for the team and not just for me," said Venus. "So I really believe my intensity level was at a different level because of that.

"Even though the scoreline looked easy, she played really well," Venus continued. "I had to hit my winners. I had to push her out of the way."

Serena, meanwhile, got a little more than she bargained for against Benesova, especially in the first set.

Each player held serve and the games were tied at 3-3 when Serena finally had two break points in the seventh game. Benesova fought off both breakers initially, but eventually succumbed to give Serena a 4-3 lead.

Benesova, however, bounced right back by breaking Williams' serve to pull back even at 4-4.

In the 10th game of the set with Benesova up 5-4, the Czech actually had her one and only chance to take the set, gaining a set point, but Serena had a service winner, followed by an ace, followed by another service winner to pull it out and tie the set a 5-5.

From then on, Benesova looked a bit defeated, and never recovered, as Williams won the next two games to win the opening set, 7-5, and then had just one blip on the screen in the second set, winning 6-1.

"I think she played really well in the first set," said Serena. "But at the same time, I probably should've tried some different techniques."

Benesova, who had never played a No. 1 ranked player in her career, was still pleased with her match, despite the outcome.

"I had nothing to lose, so I just came out there and played my game," Benesova said. "She has a big serve. It's her big weapon. I've played against some guys ... it's almost the same."

The Williams sisters, who have won six of the past seven singles Grand Slams, last played in the Fed Cup in the 1999 final, leading the team to a championship over Russia.

The Fed Cup final is in November.
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