Only Sure Bet at Wimbledon: Williams
Sunday, June 30th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6
WIMBLEDON, England (AP) _ Venus Williams loses the opening set, composes herself, then drops just three games the rest of the way.
Her sister, Serena, gets broken twice and is extended to two tiebreakers, but dominates each to win in straight sets.
Ah, top players playing top tennis when they need to.
The one seeming certainty in the sport _ Team Williams _ lent some sanity to the first three rounds of Wimbledon, while other female stars pretty much performed as expected, too.
Not so with the men.
Bye, Pete Sampras. Later, Andre Agassi. So long, Marat Safin. And Andy Roddick, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Roger Federer, and so on.
Who knows what the rest of Wimbledon holds in store after a first week in which all was upside-down at the All England Club: upset followed upset like a row of dominos falling, and not a drop of rain fell, leaving nearly as much brown as green on courts.
Of the top 17 men, only two will be in action when play resumes Monday with the fourth round: No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt and No. 4 Tim Henman, who's striving to give Britain its first men's champion since Fred Perry 66 years ago.
``It's just good to be alive in this tournament, good to be still winning, because so much has happened,'' Henman said after benefiting from a questionable umpire's overrule in his four-set victory over Wayne Ferreira to reach the final 16. ``Now it's a question of almost starting over again.''
It's the first time at any Grand Slam tournament in the Open era (since 1968) that fewer than four of the top 16 men reached the fourth round. And half of the players left already have equaled or eclipsed their best showing at a major.
Only U.S. Open champion Hewitt and 1996 Wimbledon champ Richard Krajicek _ who's played more this week than in the preceding 20 months because of serious elbow surgery _ have won majors.
That's in keeping with the way things have been in the men's game.
Four straight Grand Slam tournaments have been won by first-time major champions _ that's never happened before in the Open era _ and eight men have divvied up the last eight majors.
``Tennis is more or less equal. Any player can beat any player,'' No. 2 Safin said after his 6-2, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (1) loss to 64th-ranked Olivier Rochus in the second round. ``The people, they can play tennis. Short, long, big, fat, whatever.''
Unlike other majors, Wimbledon has all 16 fourth-round matches on the same day. While the women's schedule reads like a ``Who's Who'' guide to the game _ six of Nos. 1-7 are in it _ the men's lineup is more like a ``Who's He?''
Men's matches Monday, when the forecast calls for rain: Hewitt vs. Mikhail Youzhny, Henman vs. Michel Kratochvil, No. 18 Sjeng Schalken vs. Jan Vacek, Krajicek vs. Mark Philippoussis, No. 23 Greg Rusedski vs. No. 27 Xavier Malisse, No. 22 Nicolas Lapentti vs. Arnaud Clement, No. 28 David Nalbandian vs. Wayne Arthurs, and Feliciano Lopez vs. Andre Sa.
``It's not normal that you come into a Slam and, two matches in a row, you've really hardly seen the guy play,'' said Hewitt, who hasn't dropped a set as he bids to make his first Wimbledon quarterfinal appearance.
Among the pairings for a spot in the women's quarters are No. 1 Venus Williams vs. No. 16 Lisa Raymond, and No. 2 Serena Williams vs. Chanda Rubin. Also in it: No. 3 Jennifer Capriati, No. 4 Monica Seles, No. 6 Justine Henin (runner-up in '01) and No. 7 Jelena Dokic.
There is one true interloper: 134th-ranked Laura Granville, a qualifier from Chicago who owned one Grand Slam match victory before Wimbledon and is so anonymous that the official tournament Web site doesn't have her photo.
A Williams or Capriati has won nine of the last 11 majors, with Venus taking Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2000 and 2001.
About the only thing that appears capable of blocking Sister Slam III, following all-Williams finals at September's U.S. Open and this year's French Open, is Venus' sore left knee.
She wore a patch on it Saturday, and limped slightly during both her 5-7, 6-2, 6-1 singles victory over 31-year-old Canadian journeywoman Maureen Drake and a later doubles win with her sister.
Williams said she'd have treatment on the knee and it wouldn't affect her play.
If she's at her best, there's really only one player who's given her trouble in 2002 _ her sister. Venus is 0-2 in family faceoffs in 2002, and 38-3 in all other matches.
``I would like to see her go all the way. I would like to go all the way, too,'' said Serena, who slipped on a dry patch of turf and tumbled hard on her right side during a 7-6 (5), 7-6 (2) third-round victory over Els Callens.
``But we both have to stay focused because we're the people to beat now. Everyone obviously wants to beat us. Just have to keep our heads up and stay tough.''