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Williams' magic is missing
June 6 2003
BY John Parsons in Paris
The Daily Telegraphy

Instead of two Americans - and sisters at that - two Belgians will contest tomorrow's women's singles final of the French Open.

The success of Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne in Paris over the last 10 days is less surprising than the absence of both Serena and Venus Williams from the final of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time since last year's Australian Open final.

Even in this year's well-contested Australian Open final, when Serena beat Venus for a fourth consecutive time on such a significant occasion, there were indications that both girls' appetite was beginning to fade.

There was almost a mood of resignation from Venus after her defeat in Melbourne. No longer was she moving with the gazelle-like smoothness which marked the way she won Wimbledon in 2000 and 2001, and though there were various niggling injuries which also limited her practice and tournament play in 2001, she could have been forgiven for asking herself if the effort was still worthwhile.

For so long she was either No 1 or No 2 in the world rankings, but after her defeat by 18-year-old Russian Vera Zvonareva in the fourth round here - her earliest exit from a Grand Slam since 1999 - she will slip to fourth place when the ranking list is published on Monday.

Serena, meanwhile, had become much more than just a world champion tennis player. The combination of her powerfully athletic figure, and her penchant for spectacular outfits, such as the Cameroon World Cup football colours in Paris last year, has helped to turn her into a superstar.

Much in demand for TV chat shows, she has steadily expanded her interests way beyond tennis. She has been taking acting lessons, she designs some of her own clothes - though not the figure-hugging gowns that had the photographers snapping madly when she received the Laureus Award as the women's world sporting champion in Monte Carlo last month and at this week's dinner here to honour her and Lleyton Hewitt as world tennis champions.

She vehemently denies that all these extra-curricular activites are to blame for letting her tennis focus slip. "No, no not at all, tennis is definitely my No 1 thing," she insists. "There are just some [tennis] things I need to work on to keep my game at the top."

There was no doubt from the erratic nature of her play from the very first round here that this was not the style, strength or quality of tennis one had come to expect from the Wimbledon and world champion.

Even her 6-0, 6-0 third-round defeat of Barbara Schett was a smokescreen, for though Schett was credited with nearly 20 points, all but one of them came from unforced Serena errors.

Her defeat yesterday by Henin-Hardenne, was an upset waiting to happen. Henin had beaten her a few weeks ago in Rome and knew that the Williams game was no longer one that needed to be feared.

Perhaps what happened at Roland Garros will be the wake-up call that she needs, and that the real Serena will be back, proving that she still deserves to be the world champion, at Wimbledon.

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