Sunday, September 12
Serena offers glimpse of the future of tennis
By Greg Garber
Special to

 NEW YORK -- While Venus Williams was soaring up the women's tennis ladder two years ago, Richard Williams was already talking up her little sister. Serena, he said, will be better than Venus. You can take it to the bank.

It was hard to take him seriously -- it often is -- because Serena was idling along off the charts, somewhere in the middle 400s of the WTA Tour's rankings.

Serena Williams
Williams served 62 aces en route to the title.
On Saturday at the National Tennis Center, Serena Williams found herself precisely where her sister was in 1997: at age 17, facing Martina Hingis in the U.S. Open final. Hingis, then 16, decked the rising Venus in straight sets. Two years later, older and presumably wiser at 18, it shouldn't have been close.

It wasn't. Serena basically blew Hingis off the court, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4). It was a terrifying display, a glimpse of the future of tennis. At the U.S. Open, Serena Williams:

  • Hit 36 winners Saturday, compared to only seven for Hingis. In the first set, Hingis had exactly one.

  • Stroked 62 aces in the tournament, 40 more than second-place Lindsay Davenport.

  • Produced 57 unforced errors.

    "Wow," she sighed when informed of the number. "I mean, imagine if I stop making those errors. Can you guys imagine? That's, like, inconceivable."

    Williams is stronger and quicker than every other player on the tour, with the possible exception of her sister, Venus. They are, not coincidentally, in Sunday's doubles final as well. The scary thing? Serena really doesn't know what she's doing out there yet. It's true. Her parents kept her off the cutthroat junior circuit, insisting she get an academic education instead. Even this year, she has played fewer matches than most of the other leading players.

    Of course, she has lost fewer matches than anyone -- her record is 38-6. Her ranking will rise to No. 4 on Monday, one spot behind Venus. That's a jump of about 450 spots in less than two years.

    In winning, Williams became the first black woman to win a Grand Slam title in 41 years, going back to Althea Gibson's victory in the 1958 Wimbledon. It was fitting that she won in Arthur Ashe Stadium, for its namesake was the most recent black man to win a Slam -- Wimbledon in 1975.

    Serena would do well to share her $750,000 in prize money with her sister, for without her, it wouldn't have been possible. It was Venus who sacrificed herself in a grueling semifinals match against Hingis. It went three sets over two hours, one minute and left Hingis looking sluggish.

    "Compared to yesterday, it wasn't a great match," Hingis said. "But it was more mental, just who could hang in there longer. In the beginning, I was kind of lost. I was also a little bit tired. I just couldn't, like, stay concentrated as I usually do. Usually, I react much quicker.

    "Today I was, like, slow motion."

    Early on, it was apparent that Williams would determine the match's outcome with her brutal groundstrokes. In the first set, she kept them on the court, breaking Hingis in the second game and making it stand up. In the 10th and final game, Williams aced Hingis with a second serve, then followed it with another unreturnable offering to close out the set.

    Williams' serve constantly carried her out of trouble, particularly when she began to show nerves in the second set. Sensing this, Hingis was content to steer the ball into the open court and wait for errors. The strategy helped her save two match points at 3-5, a game that gave Williams pause. Hingis fought back to 5-5, then 6-6 and a tiebreaker.

    At 4-all, Williams stepped into a forehand and ripped it down the line for a winner. Then, Hingis launched a (truly) offensive lob that sailed long. When Hingis' lame backhand was long, Williams touched her heart, which was more than appropriate.

    "I had my chances, didn't take them," Hingis said. "There are many more years to come against the Williamses."

    Later, Hingis cataloged the game's four best players.

    "Serena is very powerful, the serve," she said. "Venus might hang in the rallies longer. She gets to a lot of balls. Lindsay just serves well and hits the ball hard. She goes for more winners. Me, I'm kind of sneaking through there somehow. You couldn't say about me what's the best shot, just like more or less all-around. Nothing great, nothing bad."

    If Hingis had won the match as was expected, she would have taken six of the available Grand Slam singles titles over the past three years. So give her five. Next in line is Lindsay Davenport, with two.

    Serena has now proven she is every bit as good as Hingis, the world's best player. Hingis, for example, has lost only two hardcourt matches all summer long in the United States, both to Serena. Considering where she is in her learning curve, it is hard to know how good Serena Williams can be. Driven by a rivalry with Venus, who knows?

    That's, like, inconceivable.


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