Venus Williams Beats Martinez to End Slump

From Staff and Wire Reports

Venus Williams spun around, waved and touched her heart, mouthing "I love you" to the crowd.

After waiting 14 months for a tournament title, she had her celebration down pat. No longer injured or tentative, Williams ended her drought by coming back to beat Conchita Martinez of Spain, 2-6, 6-2, 6-1, Sunday at the Family Circle Cup at Charleston, S.C.

"I just wanted to start this year from here," said Williams, a four-time Grand Slam tournament champion.

By winning on clay, she showed that she could be a factor at the French Open, which starts May 24.

And her postmatch pirouette and special salute to the fans showed how thrilled she was to be a winner again -- for the 30th time in her career. That ties Williams with Tracy Austin for 12th in WTA Tour history.

"I've never played in front of a crowd that was so supportive of me. A lot of times, I can be playing somewhere, and it's right in the United States, and I can be playing someone who I don't even know how to pronounce her name, and the crowd is very much rooting for the other player," Williams said.

She didn't put on much of a show during the first set, when she lost her serve twice and had just 10 winners to 16 unforced errors. But everything changed in the last two sets.

Williams had 27 winners and 19 unforced errors during that portion of the match, while 1994 Wimbledon champion Martinez had seven winners and 28 unforced errors.

Williams last won a tournament in February 2003, when she beat Kim Clijsters in the final at Antwerp, Belgium. Shortly after, Williams strained an abdominal muscle, an injury that hampered her until she cut last season short in July.

In the doubles final, the top-seeded team of Spain's Virginia Ruano Pascual and Argentina's Paola Suarez beat Martina Navratilova and Lisa Raymond, 6-4, 6-1.

It was the 47-year-old Navratilova's last appearance at the Family Circle Cup, where she won five doubles titles and four singles championships.

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Tommy Haas of Germany beat Andy Roddick, 6-3, 6-4, at the U.S. Clay Court Championship at Houston for his first title in about 2 1/2 years. Haas was once ranked as high as No. 2, but he missed all of last season while recovering from shoulder surgery.

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Juan Ignacio Chela of Argentina came back to beat Marat Safin of Russia, 6-7 (2), 6-3, 6-3, to win the Estoril Open at Oeiras, Portugal.

Arena Football

Lawrence Samuels returned a fumble 28 yards for a touchdown to give the Tampa Bay Storm a 58-52 overtime win over the Austin Wranglers in front of 12,304 at Tampa, Fla.... Joe Hamilton threw three touchdown passes and the Orlando Predators held the Georgia Force to its lowest point total in the franchise's three-year history in a 30-7 win in front of 7,879 at Duluth, Ga.... Aaron Garcia threw six touchdown passes to help the New York Dragons beat the Colorado Crush, 52-49, before 10,264 at Uniondale, N.Y.... Arizona quarterback Sherdick Bonner was 20 for 34 for 272 yards and eight touchdowns to lead the Rattlers to a 71-48 win over the Dallas Desperados in front of 13,069 at Phoenix.... John Fitzgerald threw four touchdown passes and ran for another to lead the New Orleans VooDoo past the Columbus Destroyers, 64-46, in front of 15,004 at New Orleans.

Miscellany

USC offensive lineman Winston Justice, who faces misdemeanor charges for exhibition of a replica firearm, is scheduled to be arraigned today in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Justice, 19, was arrested March 3 for his role in an incident that took place near campus Feb. 24. He was suspended from school and was ineligible for spring practice.

An estimated 300,000 fans lined the streets of Hartford, Conn., to celebrate the NCAA titles of the Connecticut men's and women's basketball teams.

Roman Voloshenko and Dmitri Shitikov scored 66 seconds apart to lift Russia to a 3-2 victory over the United States in the final of the Under-18 World Ice Hockey Championship at Minsk, Belarus.

In the bronze-medal game, Roman Psurny scored the winning goal to lead the Czech Republic past defending champion Canada, 3-2.

Russia and Japan finished 1-2 in the team and duet events at the Olympic synchronized swimming qualifying meet at Athens, and the United States earned berths for the Athens Games too.

Russia won the team gold with a near-perfect score of 99.084 points. Japan was second with 97.918, and the United States edged Spain for bronze with 96.750.

Barb Lindquist and Hunter Kemper secured the first of three spots on the U.S. women's and men's triathlon teams at the Olympic trials at Honolulu.

Lindquist, 34, of Jackson, Wyo., won the women's triathlon trials, and Kemper, 27, of Longwood, Fla., took second in the men's behind 2000 gold medalist Simon Whitfield of Canada.

Americans were vying for the teams headed to the Aug. 13-29 Olympics in Athens and for points, while top international athletes competed for points and prize money.

Fourteen American women and 12 American men were in the event. The remaining two spots on the U.S. teams will be decided after May's world championship in Portugal and June's triathlon in Bellingham, Wash.

Romania won three events at the European men's gymnastics championships at Ljubljana, Slovenia, giving it five wins in eight events at the three-day competition.

Marian Dragulescu won gold in the vault and floor, and Romania earned a third gold when Ioan Suciu won the pommel horse with 9.725 points. Dragulescu won the all-around on Saturday and was part of the winning team Friday.

Chris Dufresne is on vacation.

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