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By Ossian Shine

<br />LONDON, Nov 7 (Reuters) - The year's top-ranked player failed to win a Grand Slam, the game's most photographed face won just 10 matches in the year and the sport's premier team competition was reduced to a minor curiosity as the world's strongest nation pulled out at the last minute.

Whichever way you look at it women's tennis, able to boast only rationed appearances from Venus Williams, ends the season gasping for publicity, credibility and one of its genuine stars.

Lindsay Davenport cannot be blamed for the anomalies of a WTA ranking system that saw her finish top without a major trophy to her name in 2001.

Anna Kournikova is not at fault for the injuries that kept her away from the spotlight which adores her and there is sympathy for a United States Fed Cup team unwilling to travel in the wake of security scares.

But the overwhelming fact to arise from the year in women's tennis is that the sport needs Venus Williams. More, it increasingly seems, than Venus needs the sport.

Injuries have played their part in the Wimbledon and U.S. Open champion's season too and how debilitating the tendinitis Venus suffers really is, only she knows.

CONTROVERSIAL WITHDRAWAL

It was knee tendinitis which caused her controversial withdrawal from an Indian Wells Masters semifinal against sister Serena in March.

Tendinitis again reared its head two weeks ago, this time in the wrist. It was painful enough to prevent her from taking part in the season-ending Tour Championships.

In the absence of Venus -- an absence which the WTA Tour is investigating for validity -- the season ended with a sigh as the grand finale to the WTA Tour's year closed without a final.

Davenport pulled out of the final showdown with Serena with a hurt knee.

Serena played her part, affirming afterwards her intention to hit the top.

"My next goal is to be number one," she insisted. "I'm going to have to play more tournaments, play better at the Grand Slams. Maybe I can work harder to get to that goal."

Despite her best efforts to deputise, the void left by the absence of the enigmatic, willowy Venus blows a gaping hole in the middle of the tennis world.

Whether the WTA Tour will ever get the world number one it craves must be in great doubt.

Certainly Venus will also have to play more tournaments if she is ever to wear the crown that could have been struck especially for her.

But whether that will ever happen is increasingly doubtful.

She has won four of the last six Grand Slam tournaments she has played, and pocketed two Olympic gold medals along the way, but still Venus has not come close to claiming the top ranking.

NUMBERS GAME

The telling numbers reveal why.

This year Venus played just 12 tournaments, and not one since retaining her U.S. Open crown in September.

In 2000 she played 11.

Last year Martina Hingis finished world number one having played 20 tournaments, almost double that of her American rival.

This year the honour went to Davenport who played 17.

Davenport herself knows why she finished number one and makes no apologies.

"I fully believe that Venus would be number one if she played more. I can't help it that she doesn't though," she said last week.

"I mean, I'm not going to sit here and defend myself. Obviously, I can't help that Venus only plays nine or 10 tournaments."

It may be injuries, lack of appetite, outside distractions or a combination of all three conspiring to keep Venus away from competition.

Cheerful and engaging off-court, the American's brand of competing relies heavily on scowling intensity.

She rarely looks like she is enjoying herself, even after winning.

The sport is a phenomenally well-paid job. It may also have become a tiresome chore for the capricious, 21-year-old player.

One so tiresome that Venus may have to settle, in the history books at least, for second place.

20:05 11-06-01
 

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Cheerful and engaging off-court, the American's brand of competing relies heavily on scowling intensity.

She rarely looks like she is enjoying herself, even after winning.

The sport is a phenomenally well-paid job. It may also have become a tiresome chore for the capricious, 21-year-old player.

One so tiresome that Venus may have to settle, in the history books at least, for second place<hr></blockquote>

I respectfully disagree with the writer here. Venus is so focused during a match , it's like she has ice flowing through her veins---- but once the match is over , she shows her emotions <img src="tongue.gif" border="0"> <img src="mad.gif" border="0"> <img src="redface.gif" border="0">

[ November 07, 2001: Message edited by: Infiniti2001 ]</p>
 

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Oh dear, another quandary for my dear sweet Venus: To smile (they don't like it) or not to smile (they don't like it) ... that is the question. <img src="rolleyes.gif" border="0">
 

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Despite her best efforts to deputise, the void left by the absence of the enigmatic, willowy Venus blows a gaping hole in the middle of the tennis world.
<hr></blockquote>

<br />So true. How boring was the fall season?
 

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An excellent article! Venus is extremely important to women's tennis right now. I hope she will follow's Serena stated intention, and play more in 2002.
 

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The tour is doing just fine with Venus playing and not playing thank you very much.

I hate it when the media constantly has to shoot down the merits of the women who play professional tennis.

Venus would not be the great star she is if it were not for the women she has to compete against so why slap everyone else in the face because Venus is missing?

Bad journalism as usual.
 

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Deira dahling your quote is too cute! <img src="biggrin.gif" border="0"> <img src="biggrin.gif" border="0">

The tour needs Venus more then she needs the tour. That is the way it is. That is the way I as a huge fan of Venus would prefer it. I don't agree with the entire article because obviously the writer is legally blind. I mean HELLO but Venus does three twirls 4 skips and plenty of smiling right after she wins. <img src="smile.gif" border="0">
 

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I think the article, for the most part, is true. When Venus IS playing, she's the talk of tennis. When she's NOT playing, she becomes the talk of tennis even more. Out of all the players on the tour, it's obvious that someone see's her as the best, hince this article and more like it, being written over the last couple of years. I think the journalist wrote this article as a view of the majority of public opinion. I think that, at the end of matches, Venus merely lightens up a bit. I think her last, really uncensored emotion in it's purest form was when she won Wimbledon 2000 <img src="graemlins/angel.gif" border="0" alt="[Angel]" /> . Venus is the type of person who gets bored easily. That may even include boredom of winning.
 

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<font color=burgundy> I agree Willie fans! Venus is the</font> Black Magic Woman,<font color=burgundy> as the Italians call her. <img src="smile.gif" border="0"> We are under her spell... at her mercy... and ain't nothing anybody can do about it.</font>
 
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