- The Washington Times - Monday, August 28, 2000

No one wants to play tennis with Venus or Serena Williams.

They are too big, too strong, too quick, too fit and just too plain scary. They serve too hard, hit groundstrokes too hard and cover the court too well. And, they are on a serious roll.

Tennis, anyone?

Not if anyone can help it.

The Williams sisters enter the 113th U.S. Open as the favorites if not the top seeds when the year's final grand slam event begins today at Flushing Meadows in New York.

"No one is playing better than those two," said Martina Hingis, the No. 1-ranked player in the world and the top seed. "They serve with such force and they cover the court so well with their speed, which makes it very hard to beat them when they are playing good tennis.

"Right now, I think Venus is playing better than anybody is, and Serena can be explosive at any time. Having to play both of them is really hard. If you beat one, you're probably going to lose to the other."

Venus, 20, and Serena, 18, in the past 12 months finally turned years of hype and promise into a punishing reality. Serena won the U.S. Open last year the first grand slam victory for either as Venus sulked on the sideline.

Then, after long absences this spring because of injuries, they blossomed during a summer of dominance. The sisters combined to win four straight tournaments, including a Wimbledon victory for Venus.

Venus overpowered Lindsay Davenport to win Wimbledon, beat her again two weeks later to win the Bank of the West Classic, and then beat Monica Seles in the final of the Acura Classic in San Diego two weeks ago.

Serena, the fifth seed, won the EStyle.com Classic with victories over Hingis and Davenport three weeks ago. Serena lost to Hingis in the du Maurier Open two weeks ago when she had to retire in the third set because of an injured left foot.

Venus, the third seed at the U.S. Open, on Saturday won her 19th straight match and her fourth straight tournament by beating Seles again in the final of the Pilot Pen.

Now, the question is: Are Venus and Serena ready to take over women's tennis?

If Anna Kournikova is tennis' pretty face, the Williams sisters are the game's athletic, overpowering alter ego. Martina Navratilova raised the bar of athleticism for women's tennis in the '80s; the Williamses pushed it higher still.

In a game in which the fitness of top players (Hingis, Seles) is questionable and the utter lack of mobility of others (Davenport) is apparent, the Williams sisters have been overwhelming.

"The way they attack makes it hard for anyone to beat them," said Davenport, the No. 2 seed. "Venus is so long, fast and strong, you have to be ready to move all over the place, because she can place the ball anywhere. She has really worked hard on all aspects of her game.

"I think she has a tendency to lose focus at times, but she's good enough where she can regain it during the course of the match and still beat you. And Serena plays the same way."

The sisters' development as complete players over the past year has been startling. The power, quickness and big serves (Venus' has been clocked at 123 mph, the fastest in the women's game) have always been there along with a bullheaded determination to hit every ball as hard as possible. Now, each has added some touch, such as a drop shot, to the big-bang arsenal.

"I want to bring something new to the table," Venus said. "I want to do something my opponents have never seen before."

And, each in the past showed inconsistency, a tendency to become unstrung on court and a tendency to blow big opportunities. That also seems to have changed.

"I might think about something my dad said to me, or a conversation Serena and I had earlier in the day, when I should be thinking about the match," Venus said. "It's something I need to work on. I have to stay focused the entire match. I think that's why I might have so many unforced errors. I will correct that. We both have to get better at staying focused the entire match. Serena does the same thing.

"Once I started really having fun and making sure I enjoyed the battles, I think that helped me play a lot better."

So, can they take over tennis?

"I think we have already done it," Venus said. "I think it started in 1997 when I started hitting those huge serves. I think back then my maximum serve was 114, a lot of times I was hitting 109. Then all of sudden girls started hitting bigger serves and playing better. Then in 1998 everybody started playing better. A lot of players went out and got in shape. They had to."

Commentator and longtime pro Pam Shriver said she would like for critics to judge Serena and Venus 10 years from now. She said because of their power and size, they have taken longer to develop.

"They didn't even play the junior circuit. Players with the ability that they have usually take longer to grow into their games," Shriver said. "I think Venus and Serena have come along nicely. No matter what people think, [father] Richard has done a wonderful job coaching the both of them.

"Most coaches hope that they can have just one girl accomplish what he has. He has done it with two. Let's not be so quick to judge Richard. Let's judge the career of these girls when their careers are over, because they have just started to reach their potential as players."

Venus and Serena got one bit of luck in the U.S. Open draw that has eluded them elsewhere: They won't have to play each other. Venus beat Serena in the semifinals of Wimbledon this summer, but they are on opposite sides of the draw at the National Tennis Center at Flushing Meadows. So, there is finally the possibility of an all-Williams final.

"There is always a competition between the two of us. But we're sisters. We laugh about it most of the time," Venus said. "I don't know why people want Serena and I to have this made-up rivalry. If that's what the people are looking for, then they're going to be very disappointed, because it's not going to happen. We were raised to be a team. We will always be sisters. Nothing supersedes that."

Said Serena: "There is too much out here to see and learn about to let a game dictate your life. I'm not saying we don't want to win badly, and that we don't try to beat whoever we play, but it's not going to control our lives to that extent."

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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