Venus serves her way to win

Wednesday, August 30th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK – As her winning streak grows, so does Venus Williams' brashness and apparent lack of regard for her peers.

The thing is, the more she wins, the harder she is to refute.

Williams breezed into the third round of the U.S. Open by dusting Kveta Hrdlickova, 6-1, 6-1, at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Wednesday, extending her winning streak to 21 matches.

Though she is seeded behind No. 1 Martina Hingis and No. 2 Lindsay Davenport, Williams is playing with an air of invincibility – bolstered, no doubt, by earning her first major title last month at Wimbledon.

"I definitely think when the players walk out on the court with me they feel a little bit intimidated, possibly," Williams said. "I think they're going to come out and give a good effort, but I don't really think they feel in their hearts that they can win.''

Eleven days remain in this U.S. Open. The women's quarterfinals don't begin until next Wednesday.

But an assessment of the draw indicates the only hint of an obstacle between Williams and her 12th straight berth in a grand slam quarterfinal is 13th seed Amanda Coetzer, whom she could face in the fourth round.

Further assessment indicates the 6-1, big-serving Williams has a distinct advantage on the hard surfaces at Flushing Meadows, as do fellow power players Davenport, Mary Pierce and Williams' sister, Serena.

"I think Steffi [Graf] was really the first to bring power into the game, then I was,'' said sixth seed Monica Seles after her 6-3, 6-4 victory over Anne Kremer on Wednesday.

"Now the new generation, you have to say Serena, Venus and Lindsay. They're much stronger physically than I am, so they're going to hit the ball harder.''

Among big servers, Venus Williams on Wednesday anointed herself as the best. This was hard to argue after at least three of her serves exceeded 115 mphThe Williams sisters' power even has kindled an old debate, dating to Billie Jean King's and Bobby Riggs' "Battle of the Sexes'' more than a quarter-century ago.

John McEnroe was quoted as saying, "Any good male college player could beat the Williams sisters and so could any man on the Senior Tour.'' Later, he proposed a charity match between himself and either sister.

"I don't know if I could fit him in my schedule,'' Venus responded with a smirk. "I'm actually booked until April.''

She disagreed, however, with McEnroe's claim.

"If you're playing a college player, they just aren't as smart,'' she said. "They don't understand what it is to be at 30-all, 40-all in a big situation. I've played a lot of guys that were a lot stronger than me and I was smarter.''

The prospect of facing McEnroe led Serena to joke, "You want a piece of me?'' Venus didn't smile or blink, saying, "I don't think it's fair to put a 20-year-old against a 40-something person. So I'll let that pass.''

Even Pete Sampras took an off-handed poke at Venus Williams when asked to rate her serve, saying, "To be honest, I don't think she knows where it's going.''

That seemed a mean thing to say about someone who named her Yorkshire Terrier "Pete,'' after Sampras.

But Venus shrugged off this, too, much like she did Hrdlickova. Later Wednesday, Venus and Serena won their doubles match in 45 minutes.

Unlike Wimbledon, where they met in the semifinals, the Williams are in opposite brackets – Serena, the reigning U.S. Open champion; Venus, the world's hottest player.

It's too early to say they are on a finals collision course, but watching them and listening to Venus, it wouldn't be wise to bet against it, either.