ATHENS, Greece -- Venus Williams is losing more than just a
teammate with Serena Williams out of the Olympics: She'll be
without her sister, her best friend, her confidante.
"It was real tough for the team to lose her as a player,
because she is so very good. On a more personal level, it's really
hard for me, too,'' Venus said Thursday.
"I didn't talk to her about it. I let her make her own
decisions. It's extremely difficult to know you have to have to try
to wait another four years for the next time.''
Venus won two gold medals at the 2000 Sydney Games, and her path
to a repeat singles title in Athens could include a quarterfinal
against top-ranked Justine Henin-Hardenne. The tournament starts
Seeded sixth after a year of injury problems, Venus was drawn
Thursday to open against wild-card entry Melinda Czink, a Hungarian
ranked 103rd. Henin-Hardenne -- coming off a viral infection and
sidelined since a second-round loss at the French Open -- begins
against 66th-ranked Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic.
"Whoever I'm facing across the net, to me, doesn't matter.
Whoever I play, so be it,'' Venus said. "I need to get there.''
The other quarterfinals could be No. 2 Amelie Mauresmo of France
vs. No. 5 Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia, No. 3 Anastasia Myskina of
Russia vs. No. 7 Paola Suarez of Argentina, and No. 4 Elena
Dementieva of Russia vs. No. 8 Ai Sugiyama of Japan.
Serena and another former No. 1 player, Jennifer Capriati,
withdrew this week, citing injuries. Both notified the U.S. Tennis
Association they were pulling out of the Summer Games after the
Aug. 7 deadline, meaning coach Zina Garrison couldn't replace them
on the roster.
Did the players know about the deadline?
"It was clear in my mind, and I think that maybe I didn't
exactly say to them, 'The date is the seventh.' I called everybody
and asked them if they were ready a couple of days before. I talked
to all of them,'' Garrison said. "In my mind, I was aware of it.
They did know that it was the seventh -- a date was coming up, a
The other U.S. women entered in singles are No. 16 Chanda Rubin,
who plays Samantha Stosur of Australia, and Lisa Raymond, who faces
Lubomira Kurhajcova of Slovakia.
Rubin replaced Serena as Venus' doubles partner, and their first
opponents are No. 8 Li Ting and Sun Tian Tian of China. The
Williams sisters won the gold in Sydney; Venus has never played
doubles at a tournament with anyone else.
Venus spoke Thursday about "the elation last time, from
competing and winning gold together in doubles. How often do you
get to do that with your sister? I miss her.''
Raymond is playing doubles with Martina Navratilova, making her
Olympic debut at 47. They start against Yuliya Beygelzimer and
Tetyana Perebiynis of Ukraine.
The No. 1 man, Roger Federer, was drawn to face Nikolay
Davydenko of Russia, while No. 2 Andy Roddick starts against Flavio
Saretta of Brazil.
Federer -- who lost the bronze medal match at Sydney -- could face
a tough test in the quarterfinals against No. 6 David Nalbandian.
The Argentine owns a 6-3 career edge against the two-time Wimbledon
"The rounds are difficult here. There are a lot of great
players, and the Olympics represent a lot,'' Federer said. "The
field is tough, and if you miss your opportunity, you have to wait
for another four years.''
The other potential quarterfinals are Roddick vs. No. 8
Sebastien Grosjean of France, No. 4 Tim Henman of Britain vs. No. 5
Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain, and No. 3 Carlos Moya of Spain vs.
No. 7 Rainer Schuettler of Germany.
Roddick appears to have a tougher draw than Federer, with a
possible second-round match against Mario Ancic of Croatia or Tommy
Haas of Germany. Roddick, who beat Ancic in the Wimbledon
semifinals before losing to Federer in the final, could meet No. 16
Fernando Gonzalez of Chile in the third round.
Some players chose to skip the Olympics because the U.S. Open
begins Aug. 30, leaving little time for rest. Roddick didn't
consider that an option.
"The Olympics is the biggest sporting event in the world,'' the
reigning U.S. Open champion said, "and I wanted to be a part of