Venus, Serena in a class by themselves
NEW YORK -- There's just one player out there who has solved Venus Williams, who can match her blend of power and court coverage: Serena Williams.
The sisters have taken over women's tennis -- some would say tennis, period -- and are the players to beat as the U.S. Open starts today. Venus has won the year's final Grand Slam tournament twice in a row, while Serena has won the past two majors.
Jennifer Capriati can pound the ball, Lindsay Davenport and Martina Hingis are back from injury layoffs, and Monica Seles still knows how to construct a point. But no one consistently gives either Williams a hard time on court.
Well, there is one exception of late. In 2002, Serena has beaten Venus three times, the same number as everyone else in the world combined.
Today's top matches at the Open included top-ranked Serena against Corina Morariu, who'll be playing her first Grand Slam match since returning to the tour after fighting leukemia for more than a year. Others playing today: two-time Open champion Andre Agassi, 1998 winner Davenport, and French Open champ Albert Costa.
Both Venus and defending men's champion Lleyton Hewitt were given today off.
"Once you're able to win the big titles, it just becomes a lot easier the second time around. The first time is always a little bit more difficult because you get a little nervous," Venus said Sunday. "But now, since I've been able to do it a few times, I think I'm ready."
She and Serena have combined to win seven of the past 12 major titles, dating to Serena's victory at the 1999 U.S. Open. Impressively, they have met to decide three of the past four Grand Slam tournaments.
Venus beat Serena in the U.S. Open final last year -- two black players never had stood at opposite sides of a net to decide a major singles tennis championship. Serena returned the favor at the French Open and Wimbledon.
Serena is ranked No. 1, Venus No. 2. And they've done it with unprecedented strength on strokes and serves -- other women started lifting weights to try to catch up -- plus superb court coverage. Both are versatile, too, throwing in the occasional drop shot or net rush.
"In general, I do enjoy playing the power game. That's what I was brought up on back in the '80s, when power was really coming into fashion. So that's really my base," the 22-year-old Venus said.
"But I like to be able to play all shots. I think it's important, as a professional tennis player. I expect to be able to play any shot out there on the court."
Off the court, the sisters have been the subject of sniping by other players.
Some suspect it's motivated by racism. It might just be rooted in envy.
After being beaten by Serena in the Wimbledon semifinals, Amelie Mauresmo suggested the result of the all-Williams final was predetermined. Last week, Mauresmo said: "They are the best in the world, but I think even though it's very impressive what they're doing, it isn't going to last forever."
Jelena Dokic acknowledges the sisters are at another level right now, but then adds: "Tennis for me was a little more exciting 5-10 years ago. I rather prefer the Hingis game."