Sister act sweeps away the new text and head opposition

 

On a ravishingly clear and sunny late summer's day Serena Williams beat Martina Hingis 6-3, 7-6 on Saturday to become the first African-American woman since Althea Gibson in 1958 to win the US Open title. Yesterday she did the double, teaming up with sister Venus to defeat fellow American Chanda Rubin and France's Sandrine Testud to capture the women's doubles crown. The 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 triumph made 17-year-old Serena only the fifth woman in the Open era to win the US Open singles and doubles crowns in the same year.

Nothing could have spoiled the sisters' triumphant weekend, not even their father, Richard, who did his best by suggesting that Lindsay Davenport, beaten by the 17-year-old Serena in the semi-finals, should be "taken to the junkyard" while also claiming that Hingis, still the world's number one, and who knocked out Venus in the other semi-final, "had been so scared before she went out for the final that I told one doctor he should be standing by in case she had a heart attack".

And so it went on. "Venus will win two grand slams next year and is still the best player in the world. They'll both be in the finals next year - they've already taken over tennis. Nobody can sell sweets and popcorn like they can. Tennis was dead before my girls came along. . ." And on.

Much is harmless, although two years ago, when Venus barged into Romania's Irina Spirlea during a change-over, Mr Williams was quick to raise the race issue, calling Spirlea a "big white turkey".

Williams is a complex man, and it is not always possible to gauge his intent. As the years roll on, and Venus and Serena gain in maturity, he is likely to be increasingly marginalised, but for the present his self-publicity is feeding on the oxygen of their success.

To be fair, he has bucked the system, raising and coaching his daughters outside the US Tennis Association's jurisdiction. And, as he frequently points out, the USTA's system has produced hardly any successful juniors in recent times, either boys or girls.

It was quickly realised, after a bumpy beginning, how much the sisters, with their flair for publicity on and off the court, could do the women's game and gradually they were accepted.

Of course, the playing rivalry between Hingis and the Williams sisters has not gone away and never will. They want to get to the top; Hingis wants to stay there.

Richard Williams planned that Venus would reach the top first and when she and Serena reached this year's Lipton Championships final this year, it was no surprise when Venus won. Their father then predicted the first "all-black final" here, but Hingis won a stunning 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 semi-final over Venus on Friday night.

For Hingis, who ended the French Open in emotional turmoil after losing to the now-retired Steffi Graf of Germany, and then bombed out of Wimbledon in the first round against the 16-year-old Australian Jelena Dokic, this last fortnight has seen her re-establish her credibility.

She is back with her mother and coach, Melanie, and has clearly worked extremely hard on her stamina, as she proved against Venus who ended their match badly cramped and virtually unable to serve. But two Williams's was too much for Hingis in this ridiculously scheduled, television-driven tournament with its back-to-back semis and finals.

Hingis had a mild swipe at the USTA and CBS, but was openly generous towards Serena. "No excuses. I had my chances, but she was better. But there are many more years to come against the Williams's." This was not a great final, for the huge battle with Venus had taken the physical and mental edge off Hingis. Serena raced to a 3-0 first set lead, then her nerves began to grip. She survived two break points before serving out the first set, and missed two match points at 5-3 in the second set before eventually, half an hour later, decisively winning the tiebreak 7-4.

"After I lost those two match points I was very upset with myself," said Williams, who had won four three-setters in a row to reach the final. "I said, `Serena this can't happen. There comes a time when you have to stop caving, you just have to stop.' "You get so tired of going down because of the same problem. I just said to myself, `You're going to have to perform."' The main difference between the two players was the power of the Williams serve, both first and second.

So Hingis missed her sixth grand slam title and Serena, who received the obligatory telephone call from President Clinton, won her first. As for her sister Venus, she has none. "Venus was really down," said Serena. "I've never seen her that down before."

It will now be fascinating to see what effect this victory has on all three women, as well as Davenport, the former US and reigning Wimbledon champion. Asked what she thought of Richard Williams predicting Venus would win two grand slams next year Hingis, with a large grin, replied: "What if I say `no comment'."

Hingis and the Williams were dubbed the Spice girls of tennis, then the Spite girls. Just make that inspired.