Originally created 09/08/01

Williams sisters to play in Open final



NEW YORK -- Serena Williams clubbed one last service winner on match point, then thrust out her arms, wiggled her hips and happily skipped to the net.

Barely two hours later, Venus Williams closed out her own semifinal victory Friday at the U.S. Open and celebrated with her trademark wave and pirouette.

The sisters paraded into the final with stunning ease, beating the world's two top-ranked players. Their prime-time sibling showdown to cap Super Saturday will be the first Grand Slam final between sisters in 117 years.

"All my life I've been waiting for this," said their mercurial father and coach, Richard Williams. "And now it can happen."

The pairing is no surprise - Serena won the Open in 1999, and defending champion Venus has won three of the past five major titles. But the way they waltzed into the final was remarkable.

Serena played almost flawless tennis in beating No. 1 Martina Hingis 6-3, 6-2. Venus, at 21 the older sister by 15 months, then overpowered No. 2 Jennifer Capriati 6-4, 6-2.

"It's sweet. It's sweet. Just real nice, had a lot of blessings from God, and we're happy that we're healthy, and we're happy to be here," Venus said.

Added Serena: "It will be great history."

Super Saturday will also include a rematch of the 2000 men's final, with a recently rejuvenated Pete Sampras trying to avenge his loss to Russian Marat Safin in the semifinals. Another Russian, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, will play Australian Lleyton Hewitt for the other berth in Sunday's final.

Then the sisters, also best friends, will take the stage for the first prime-time Grand Slam women's final. It's the latest, most dramatic achievement in their remarkable rise from the mean streets of Compton, Calif., to magazine-cover celebrity.

Venus had the tougher match Friday against Capriati, who has done wonders for the game's popularity herself this year with a resurgence that included back-to-back Grand Slam titles.

As her barrettes and groundstrokes sparkled in the sunshine, Capriati raced to a 4-1 lead, but soon shadows crept across the court and the sparkle was gone. Williams, repeatedly picking on Capriati's backhand, won seven consecutive games to take command.

Capriati, playing in her first Open semifinal since 1991, became increasingly frustrated and frequently looked at her family between points. She reacted to one wild shot with a rueful grin, shrug and wave of helplessness to her father, Stefano. He smiled back.

Richard Williams, meanwhile, nervously roamed the stands, chatting with fans and taking photos.

The crowd was firmly behind Capriati, erupting in boos when a close call went against her in the final game of the first set. But at the end they applauded the second Williams win of the day.

"Venus, are you going to play another set?" Richard Williams shouted as she stuffed her racket in her bag. "I've still got some film."

The statistics told the tale of Serena's domination of Hingis. Williams smacked 40 winners, including serves, to five for Hingis. Williams hit 10 aces with no double faults, missed only seven first serves and won seven games at love.

In the last five games, Hingis put only four of 21 returns into play. Things went no better when she served, as Williams repeatedly feasted on her 65-mph second serve.

Hingis was on the defensive from the start, losing the first six points and falling behind 5-1. Williams hit three aces and a service win to win the final game of the opening set, then walked off the court flexing her arm like a bodybuilder.

By the time she ran off 10 consecutive points midway through the final set, Hingis was clearly flustered. Her next serve barely made it to the bottom of the net, and soon she was in the interview room explaining her latest Grand Slam defeat.

"I couldn't read her serve," Hingis said. "She was hitting the lines in the corners. It was difficult to reach and even if I got there, there was not much I could do with it."

Hingis hasn't won a major title in 2 1/2 years, but she'll remain No. 1 next week because she plays more matches and more consistently than the other top players.

The only previous Grand Slam final between sisters took place at 1884 Wimbledon, when Maud Watson rallied to beat her sibling Lillian for the first major tournament title. Although Richard Williams called Saturday's match a dream come true, he said he planned to head home to Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and wouldn't watch, not even on TV.

"I doubt any person in their right mind would want to see their kids out there fighting like hell in an arena," he said.

The girls aren't fond of playing each other, and there has long been debate about whether their father predetermines the outcome of their matches against each other.

"I don't think we should get into that," he said when asked about it following the semifinals. "This is an historic thing here, and that's in the past."

The family has always denied such allegations, which intensified last March when Venus, citing knee tendinitis, pulled out at Indian Wells shortly before her semifinal match against Serena. There had been no hint of the injury previously in the tournament, and the crowd reacted to the ill-timed withdrawal by booing the family.

Suspicions have also been raised because the quality of play when the sisters meet has often been poor. But perhaps it's just because they don't like to play each other, and a sloppy match is a distinct possibility Saturday night.

One thing is certain, as their father noted: "A Williams is going to win."