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This Williams Victory Is Something Special

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In such forums as these are reputations made. Or, in the case of Venus Williams, enhanced.

Until now, Williams has been bunched with the handful of other teenage players poised to take over the women’s tennis tour and dubbed “future stars.”

Williams won on one of the sport’s biggest stages Friday night, defeating eighth-seeded Anke Huber to reach the round of 16 at the U.S. Open.

Suddenly, Williams’ performance has caused attention be paid to her for the quality of her tennis.

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Huber is the highest-ranked player Williams has beaten, and--with every powerful serve and cannon-like stroke--Williams obliterated all reference to her No. 66 ranking and her youth. She picked a opportune moment to distinguish herself in a 6-3, 6-4 victory.

“I think it’s definitely a beginning,” she said. “I know I can play well. You can see the changing of the guard in the men’s and the women’s game. Younger players are coming in, taking over. It’s just a natural thing, it’s what happens.”

Williams produced only one of they day’s upsets. Doubles specialist Mark Woodforde of Australia defeated third-seeded Yevgeny Kafelnikov of Russia, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4). Woodforde will meet Andre Agassi in the third round. Agassi defeated Adrian Voinea of Romania, 6-0, 6-2, 6-2.

Williams’ elation at the victory was evident after the match as she skipped to the net and accepted Huber’s frosty congratulations.

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The two have been verbally jousting for the last month. Huber, usually a gracious person, has shown signs of the same resentment that many of her peers feel toward the entire crop of confident newcomers--led by 16-year-old Martina Hingis.

Some players believe that Williams and No. 26 Anna Kournikova, among others, have been given media attention out of proportion to their on-court accomplishments.

“I think it’s a little bit too much,” Huber said of Williams’ notoriety. “I don’t know what’s her ranking right now, but she’s got quite a lot of attention right now.”

She came to Huber’s attention earlier this month at the tournament at La Costa. Williams was asked what she expected from her next match, against world No. 1 Hingis. “Nothing special,” Williams replied in the no-big-deal style she displays.

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Huber, speaking for numerous players, snorted in response, “What a joke.” Hingis, not surprisingly made quick work of Williams. As the luck of the tour would have it, Williams and Huber played each other the next week at Manhattan Beach. Playing in front of many of the friends she had known growing up in Compton, Williams was uncharacteristically subdued and lost to Huber in straight sets.

As most players pretend to do, Williams clung to the athlete code thats calls for her to pretend not to seek revenge.

“I’m not really a revenge person,” she said.

However, Williams is well aware of the steady stream of hurtful remarks directed at her since she turned pro in 1994.

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“These things do not matter to me,” she said evenly. “Everyone has to have their own opinion. I can’t change the way someone feels. I can’t get involved in other people’s lives to that degree. To be honest, I can’t change the way someone feels if they’re angry or hostile or jealous.”

Williams may not be as serene as she appears. But, by defeating a player of Huber’s stature--she defeated Iva Majoli, then ranked ninth, at Indian Wells in March--Williams has at last matched words with performance. And at a Grand Slam event.

She is still a long way from reaching her goal of getting into the Top 20, but her victory can be construed as a breakthrough. No matter how she fares in the next round, Williams will break into the Top 50 for the first time, possibly as high as No. 45.

Based on her powerful performance Friday night, she may advance further in this tournament. Huber was up a break in the first set, leading 3-2, but Williams broke and embarked on a four-game streak to take the set in 31 minutes.

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Huber had no answer for Williams’ powerful serve.

“She was serving quite well, that was the best part of her game,” Huber said. “So if I lose my serve, it’s difficult. My return was terrible. She was never under pressure, I never took advantage of her second serve.”

Williams again was asked to compare herself to Tiger Woods, and again she accepted the comparison.

“He is something different from the mainstream golfer,” Williams said. “In tennis, I also am. I’m tall. I’m black. Everything’s different about me. Just face the facts.”

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It’s the same sort of talk that makes other players do a slow burn, coming as it does, from someone who has never won a tour event.

“You don’t like to lose to a 16- or 17-year-old girl,” Huber said. “But compared to how she played in Los Angeles, her play was nothing special.”

There’s that phrase again. Williams can now be said to be something special, and this time it’s her tennis that’s doing the talking.


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