Originally created 02/21/99

Venus Williams beats Graf, Novotna wins other semifinal



HANOVER, Germany -- Venus Williams powered past Steffi Graf in three hard-fought sets Saturday, ending it with a service ace, to reach the Hanover WTA final.

Williams decided an exciting match that had 4,000 spectators whistling and clapping, by breaking Graf's serve at 4-3 in the final set of a 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 victory.

"Venus has never played better," said Williams' younger sister, Serena.

Williams, seeded second, will face top-seeded Jana Novotna in Sunday's final. Novotna beat Russia's Elena Likhovtseva 7-6 (7-4), 6-4.

Williams beat Graf for the first time in three tries, overpowering her with her serve and attacking the net ferociously. Graf, steadier at the baseline, punished Williams' net attacks with hard passing shots in the second set.

But Williams, fighting the pro-Graf crowd, was at her best in the final set. Leading 4-3 on Graf's serve, she won several high-speed rallies and wiped away Graf's 40-15 lead, ripping a forehand that hugged the line to set up the break.

Graf, who began her comeback from a career-threatening injury at this tournament last year, had been confident entering the match, saying she was fit and had trained well.

"Altogether, I'm happy with the week," Graf said. "My serve was too weak, but Venus played consistently and almost without mistakes."