Originally created 05/28/98

Williams and Hingis continue on path toward clash

PARIS -- Hundreds of beads crackle in her braids as she races for shots. The ball comes off her racket with a thwack as she serves winners at up to 118 mph.

Blindfolded, you'd still know Venus Williams was on the court.

Williams was at her overpowering best in a 6-0, 6-2 second-round win over Ai Sugiyama on a wet Wednesday at the French Open.

The eighth-seeded Williams won the first eight games and never allowed Sugiyama, ranked 19th in the world and considered one of the most dangerous non-seeded players at the French Open, to win any of her seven service games.

The 6-foot-1 1/2 Williams, looking more at ease on clay with each outing, controlled the match with powerful groundstrokes and her ability to cover the court with long strides.

"I think my footwork was very good, I was in position. It was very hard for her to get a ball past me," said Williams, a second-round loser in her French Open debut last year. "Even if my groundstrokes aren't right or my serve is off, if my footwork is there it's extremely hard to beat me."

Also advancing to the third round was top-seeded Martina Hingis, a 6-1, 6-2 winner over Meike Babel, keeping very much alive the possibility of a Williams-Hingis clash in the quarterfinals.

Williams, 17, presents a striking image on Center Court. Her height, power and athleticism set her apart. Along with her younger sister, Serena, she revels in her non-traditional image.

"We're different than what has normally come to tennis in the past. We do things a little bit differently," she said. "We have our beads. I'm tall. Then, being black, that's different, too. We're different. We try to make it exciting."

Hingis' game is based more on precision than power. She controls matches with a chess master's savvy, dictating points with sharply angled shots and by mixing soft drop shots with hard groundstrokes.

Hingis displays a cool European sophistication that downplays her individuality on the court. But she agreed with Williams that today's teen tennis stars are different.

"Everybody wants to be his own self, especially in the new generation," she said. "Before, everybody always had an idol and everybody wanted to be like someone else.

"Today's players, we all have our own style. I think that makes the game so interesting, so different, so much better."

Williams may want to look different, but she's eager to fit in with her new fans in Paris. After her win over Sugiyama, she whispered her secret desire to a French TV commentator.

"Maybe you can ask me a question in French, but not too hard," she said. "Under pressure on TV, I might get nervous."

A few seconds later, the interview began and Williams got her wish. After a couple of questions about her 49-minute victory, she was asked how she liked Paris.

"I like it very much here. This is the only Grand Slam where I can work on my French," she said, leading into the obvious test.

The interviewer, speaking slowly in French, asked again how the 17-year-old American liked Paris.

"J'aime beaucoup les Francais. Je suis Parisienne (I like the French very much. I am Parisian)," she said with a grin.


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