Originally created 09/07/02

All-Williams final at Open again

NEW YORK -- The streak of Sister Slams was under siege Friday.

In one U.S. Open semifinal, Venus Williams, hampered by a blister on her hand, trailed 0-40 in the 10th game of the third set. In the other, Serena Williams was down 5-2 in the second set, and later faced three set points.

Yet, with an air of inevitability, each sister leaned on their stinging serves to get out of trouble and set up another all-Williams major final.

Venus got past Amelie Mauresmo 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, taking the last five points with serves at up to 122 mph. Serena ran off the final five games to defeat fourth-seeded Lindsay Davenport 6-3, 7-5.

Not once in the 20th century did siblings meet to decide a Grand Slam title. It's about to happen at a third straight major, and for the fourth time in five majors.

"It's definitely very remarkable. It's a feat that's never happened before," said top-seeded Serena. "Growing up I figured, 'Hey, I want to be No. 1. I want to win Grand Slams.' Venus obviously had the same goals."

Venus beat Serena in the 2001 U.S. Open final, but the younger sister prevailed at the French Open and Wimbledon this year.

Venus has a 5-4 career edge against Serena, who has won their last three matches.

"They're dominating a lot more than I thought possible," said their father, Richard, who bounced around the stands at Arthur Ashe Stadium with four long-lens cameras slung over his shoulders.

And now it's about making various layers of history.

When the sisters go to the opposite ends of the court for Saturday's final, just as they do day after day when they practice together, each will aim for a rare feat:

- Venus can become the first woman since Chris Evert in 1975-78 to win at least three straight U.S. Opens.

- Serena can become the first since Steffi Graf in 1996 to win three straight Grand Slam tournaments in a year. She might be going for a true Grand Slam, if not for having missed the Australian Open with an ankle injury.

Whoever wins will be No. 1 in the rankings, a spot currently occupied by Serena. She wrested it from Venus at Wimbledon.

"Venus is definitely right there, if not a little bit ahead of me," said Serena, who won the family's first Grand Slam title at the 1999 U.S. Open. "That's what I keep telling myself so I can at least have a goal to work for."

Saturday's schedule begins with the men's semifinals. Pete Sampras will play Sjeng Schalken, followed by defending champion Lleyton Hewitt against Andre Agassi.

After that, the sisters will meet in prime time, a change instituted last year so TV can take advantage of the increased popularity of women's tennis, due in great part to a family named Williams. Their 2001 final here drew higher TV ratings than a Top 25 college football game.

Mauresmo insisted during Wimbledon and again in New York that fans would get bored of Williams vs. Williams over and over.

The 10th-seeded Frenchwoman had a chance to do something about it Friday. She kept chipping away, throwing Venus off by changing pace and coming to the net, and broke serve three times to win the second set.

Each player tried to deal with distractions. Mauresmo was flustered by a few close line calls that went against her - she didn't shake the chair umpire's hand after the match - while Venus twice had a trainer come out to tape the blister on her right hand.

Mauresmo, now 0-9 against the sisters, was angered in particular in the final set by two calls at 2-2, a game in which she had two double faults (she had one all match to that point), including on break point.

But she still was in the match, and won the first three points when Venus served for the victory at 5-4. A good time for Venus to ratchet up that serve, eh?

Here's the sequence that followed: a service winner at 116 mph, a forehand winner set up by another serve at 116 mph, an ace at 114 mph, a service winner at 122 mph and a spinning second serve at 79 mph that was returned wide.

Venus needed five points, and she came up with five super serves. Game, set, match.

"I was just very relaxed," Venus said. "They kept going in."

A big part of the crowd supported Mauresmo ("Allez, Amelie!" is no longer heard only at Roland Garros) and she was saluted with a standing ovation as she walked off, the applause drowning out Venus' postmatch interview.

Serena seemed to be headed for a matter-of-fact victory, breaking Davenport's serve in the second game and holding an amazing 16-0 edge in first-set winners. But Davenport, the 1998 Open champion playing in just her fifth tournament since right knee surgery, broke in the sixth game of the second set and held serve to go up 5-2.

Davenport served for the set at 5-3 but was broken when she sent a forehand wide. Her three set points came in the next game. Serena erased the first with an ace, the second with a service winner and the third by stepping in from the baseline to smack a short return for a cross-court forehand winner.

"Nothing seemed to bother her," said Davenport, who's lost to a Williams at each of the past four U.S. Opens.

By sometime Saturday night, a Williams will have won eight of the past 13 majors.

"Until 8:30 we'll be friends, and when the match is over, we'll be friends again," Serena said. "Whatever happens, we're going home with the maximum amount of money."

And once more, the trophy engraver can start etching "Williams" a day early.


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