Originally created 09/12/99

Serena Williams wins U.S. Open



NEW YORK -- The kid sister turned out to be the real champ.

Serena Williams finished the job that big sister Venus couldn't, beating Martina Hingis 6-3, 7-6 (7-4) to capture the U.S. Open title Saturday at age 17 in only her second year as a pro.

As graceful and quick as a gymnast, the powerfully built Williams put on a spectacular display of mature tennis with an all-court attack to become the first black woman to win a Grand Slam title since Althea Gibson in 1958.

"It's just too exciting to compute right now," Williams said.

"It's really amazing for me to even have an opportunity to be compared to a player as great as Althea Gibson. One of her best friends told me she wanted to see another African American win a slam before her time is up. I'm so excited I had a chance to accomplish that while she's still alive."

It was equally meaningful to Williams that her victory came in Arthur Ashe Stadium, named after the 1968 U.S. Open champion and the last black American to win a major -- Wimbledon in 1975.

Moments after the match, Williams received a congratulatory phone call from President Clinton and daughter Chelsea from New Zealand.

"I thought for sure my day couldn't get any better," Williams said. "The next thing they told me is the president of the United States wanted to talk. I was, like, wow."

Williams' victory guaranteed that two Americans would carry away the U.S. Open singles trophies, since Andre Agassi and Todd Martin will meet for the men's title today.

Bouncing back from a wild start, Agassi exploited Yevgeny Kafelnikov's backhand with brutal shots to that side, wearing him down and breaking his spirit on the way to a 1-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 victory Saturday.

Agassi, winner of the French Open and runner-up at Wimbledon this summer, regained the No. 1 ranking as he advanced to the title match against Martin, the new No. 4 after a 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 romp over Cedric Pioline.

Venus Williams had her shot at Hingis, but lost to her at 17 in the 1997 U.S. Open final and in an exhausting semifinal that left her quivering with cramps Friday.

"Venus was so bummed," Serena said. "She felt so bad because her legs had totally given out. She was really down, and that encouraged me to be even tougher out there."

Serena, who will move up in the rankings from No. 6 to No. 4, proved too much for Hingis to handle in the critical moments that made the difference in a brilliant match filled with feverish baseline rallies, speedy forays to the net and an array of lobs and drop shots.

In winning her first major title and a $750,000 check, Williams showed the kind of athleticism, court sense and resilience under pressure that could make her a champion for years to come.

She needed every bit of those qualities when the 18-year-old Hingis, winner of five Grand Slam titles, fought back from two match points down at 5-3 on her serve in the second set to push it into a tiebreaker.

Williams weakened a little, made too many errors, but she didn't relent.

Aided by huge serves -- she finished with eight aces that pushed her tournament total to 62, 40 more than anyone else -- Williams kept Hingis on the defensive throughout the tiebreaker.

"Those serves were, like, smacking," Hingis said.

But it took more than serves to win it. Williams broke Hingis to 3-1 in the tiebreaker when Hingis struck a forehand long after a tough rally. Hingis got the minibreak back at 4-3 when Williams pushed a forehand long herself.

The shot that made all the difference came two points later when Williams stepped inside the baseline to jump on Hingis' serve and ripped a forehand winner down the line for a 5-4 advantage.

Hingis, perhaps worn down by Venus in the semis, looked weary.

"Usually I react much quicker, but today it was like slow motion," Hingis said.

Williams had a chance now to close out the match with two serves. On the first, she barely missed an ace, but in the ensuing rally she skimmed the net with an approach shot, forcing Hingis to try a defensive backhand lob that drifted long.

Williams finally put the match away on her next serve when Hingis hit another backhand long. When she saw the last shot float out, Williams cried, "Oh my God," and her knees buckled as she covered her face with her hands.

Her eyes popped wide when she was told later that she had made 57 unforced errors -- 33 more than Hingis.

"Wow! Imagine if I stop make those errors," she said. "That's, like, inconceivable."

Richard Williams, Serena's father and coach, said he thought Hingis looked scared late in the match, a comment that brought a surprised response from Hingis, who won the Australian Open this year and was runner-up at the French Open.

"I wasn't the only person at the end who was scared," Hingis said. "She had two match points that she wasn't able to close out. I think she was a bit more scared than I was actually at the end because I've been there, done it."

Tiebreakers certainly held no fear for Serena Williams, who has won all six that she's played this year. But she didn't want to be in this one after blowing the match points and a chance to serve out the match at 5-4.

"I actually was saying to myself, `What was I doing here?"' Williams said. "I totally had her, but she would not give up."

Williams had won three other Grand Slam trophies, two in mixed doubles and one in doubles, but the big one she held this time meant much, much more.

"There's my name right there, Serena Williams," she said giddily as she carried the trophy in her victory lap around the court.

A few minutes later, she tried her best to compose herself to talk about the moment.

"I didn't know what to do -- laugh or cry or just scream -- so I think I did it all," she said.

In capturing the title, Williams beat three of the top four women in the world -- Hingis, defending champion Lindsay Davenport, and two-time champion Monica Seles.

Williams and Hingis, who had engaged in a war of words during the tournament, shook hands and hugged after the match.

"It's great that she was my opponent today, not anyone that was bitter," Williams said.

Hingis had one thought on her mind, though.

"I'm definitely looking for revenge next year," Hingis said.

Venus Williams watched the whole scene from the courtside player's guest box with her parents, and when she saw her younger sister take the prize she looked on with a sullen, envious expression, upset that she couldn't be out there.

"I've never seen her that down before," Serena said.

Surely, Venus will have her chances in the future, and is likely to meet her sister for other Grand Slam titles, as their father predicted they would this time.

Whatever was going through their minds, they had to put those thoughts aside for the moment shortly after the match. Williams and Williams had to go out on the court again -- this time as partners in the doubles semifinals against Mary Pierce and Barbara Schett.