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Archive for Wednesday, August 30, 2000

Serena makes fashion, tennis statements

August 30, 2000

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— Never shy, Serena Williams arrived in defense of her U.S. Open title resplendent in tie-dyed lilac and black, and flashing a pert smile that bespoke the confidence of a champion.

The crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium was still buzzing Tuesday from the dismissal of French Open champ Gustavo Kuerten, the men's No. 2 seed, who fell victim to lanky Australian qualifier Wayne Arthurs' 26 aces in a 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (1) defeat.

Serena williams returns a shot to Tina Pisnik. Williams was a 6-3,
6-2 winner Tuesday in the U.S. Open.

Serena williams returns a shot to Tina Pisnik. Williams was a 6-3, 6-2 winner Tuesday in the U.S. Open.

If the fans thought that surprise would be a prelude to another, Williams quickly set out to disabuse them of that notion and any thought that her recent heel injury might hinder her.

First she made her color-coordinated fashion statement, slowly peeling off her lilac jacket to reveal a sheer, flowing dress that perfectly matched her lilac sneakers.

"It shows how good I look, how in shape I am," Williams said with a laugh.

Then she made a tennis statement, ripping a return winner on the first point as she proceeded to crush 19-year-old Slovenian Tina Pisnik 6-3, 6-2.

In beginning her quest to reach the final along with her older sister Venus, 18-year-old Serena did not display her finest tennis, even if it was enough to overwhelm a player of Pisnik's modest ability.

"I was not the usual Serena," she said. "It showed a little bit because it should have been a little quicker. Y'know, it was 59 minutes. I'm used to 40s and 30s now. ... I didn't play well today.

"Actually, I was expecting to feel really special. I didn't. The guy that was announcing, he said, 'Our defending U.S. Open champ,' and I couldn't help but smile. Other than that, I didn't really feel it."

There were times when Williams soared spectacularly on overheads and lunging volleys, and times when she walloped serves at 111 mph to rack up four aces and six service winners. But there were also times when she found herself out of position, when her lilac shoes got tangled up, when Pisnik made her look quite ordinary.

That happened once in the first set, when Pisnik broke her at love in the fourth game, and once again in the second set, when Pisnik broke her at 15-40 with a backhand at the net.

But those lapses were perhaps to be expected after Williams missed a week to allow an inflamed small bone in her left heel to calm down. The injury flared up nine days ago during her final against Martina Hingis in Montreal, and Williams cautiously retired from that match in the third set.

There was never any danger that Pisnik would pull off a victory like Arthurs.

Occasionally, Arthurs, a left-handed Australian, gets into a serving groove and seems unbeatable. It happened at Wimbledon last year when he held serve for 111 consecutive games through three rounds of qualifying and three matches of the tournament before falling in four sets to eventual finalist Andre Agassi.

This time, after a solitary break by each player in the first two sets, Arthurs and Kuerten held serve the rest of the way and let the tiebreakers decide matters. In those, Arthurs proved dominant and he ended the affair with a 134 mph ace up the middle.

Despite the urging and cries of "Guga" from Kuerten's fans, the bearded Brazilian failed to impress his game on Arthurs, who first began winning the battle from the baseline, then took charge of the match at the net.

Time and again, Arthurs, best known as a doubles player, would chip Kuerten's second serve and charge the net, ready to knock off a feeble attempt at a passing shot. On his own service games, Arthurs would keep Kuerten on the defensive with his blistering serves.

Arthurs reached double match point on Kuerten's serve in the ninth game of the fourth set. Kuerten served an ace to save the first one. He thought he had his second straight ace on the next serve, but it was called wide.

It made no difference. Kuerten won the next three points and held for 5-5. Two games later, they moved into a second straight tiebreaker, which Arthurs dominated, racing out to 6-0 lead.

Kuerten won the next point, but the hole he was in was much too deep. Arthurs then pounded his final ace to complete the victory.

Told that Kuerten was one of the favorites to win this tournament, Arthurs replied, "Not anymore."

Kuerten became only the second No. 2 seed to lose in the first round of the U.S. Open since 1956, when the present system of seedings started. The only other time it happened was in 1994 when second-seeded Goran Ivanisevic was ousted in his opener. Ivanisevic lost another first-round match on Tuesday.

Kuerten was the second seeded player to tumble from the tournament on the second day. Earlier, No. 16 Julie Halard-Decugis fell to Miriam Oremans 6-3, 6-4.

Lindsay Davenport, the 1998 women's champion, romped past Gala Leon Garcia of Spain 6-0, 6-1 in 44 minutes.

In the fourth game of the second set, Leon Garcia, who prefers to play on clay rather than the hardcourts of the National Tennis Center, whipped a winning forehand into the corner and raised her arms in triumph. Two points later, she had won her first and only game, breaking Davenport at 15.

"I feel it's great to get an easy one under my belt," Davenport said. "There's still a lot of tennis left."

Other seeded players to win Tuesday included No. 4 Mary Pierce, No. 7 Conchita Martinez, No. 10 Anke Huber, No. 12 Anna Kournikova and No. 14 Dominique Van Roost in the women's singles, and No. 7 Thomas Enqvist, No. 8 Alex Corretja, No. 12 Juan Carlos Ferrero, and No. 14 Nicolas Kiefer in men's play.

The hard-serving Ivanisevic, who may have played his last match in Flushing Meadows, was booed when he finished his match against Dominik Hrbaty on an outside court. Three times a runner-up at Wimbledon, Ivansevic won the first set, then only one more game as he lost 3-6, 6-0, 6-1, 6-0.

"I'm undecided to play anymore this year," said Ivanisevic, who has been bothered by a sore shoulder that may need surgery. "It's tough to say yes, it's tough to say no.

"It's not fun anymore. My head is a little confused. The battery is empty."

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