Shop Fantasy Central Golf Guide Email Travel Subscribe SI About Us US Open

 
  CNNSI.com
 World Sports
U.S. Open
Other Tennis News
Almanac
Player Profiles
Men
Women
Photo Gallery
Brackets
Men
Women
Schedules
Featured Matches
Daily Results

EVENTS
 Sportsman of the Year
 Heisman Trophy
 Swimsuit 2001

CENTERS
 Fantasy Central
 Inside Game
 Multimedia Central
 Statitudes
 Your Turn
 Message Boards
 Email Newsletters
 Golf Guide
 Cities
 Work in Sports

CNNSI.com GROUP
 Sports Illustrated
 Life of Reilly
 Television
 SI Women
 SI for Kids
 Press Room
 TBS/TNT Sports
 CNN Languages

COMMERCE
 SI Customer Service
 SI Media Kits
 Get into College
 Sports Memorabilia
 TeamStore

Hingis, Venus are compelling rivals

Click here for more on this story
Latest: Friday September 08, 2000 09:44 PM

By Jon Wertheim, Sports Illustrated

 
FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y. -- After wiping a gangly, giggly teenager named Venus Williams off the courts of Key Biscayne in the spring of 1997, Martina Hingis nearly tripped on a bead in the interview room. "Maybe someone should give this back to Venus," she joked, tossing the spheroid to a WTA Tour employee. So far as anyone can tell, that may have marked the opening salvo in tennis' strongest, most contoured rivalry.

Friday their compendium of memorable mano-à-mano throwdowns got even thicker. In three breathtaking sets that left more than 20,000 fans equally drained and exhilarated, Williams outlasted her foil 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 in the U.S. Open semifinals. Like all great matches, this one had the ebb and flow of a sine curve.

Just when it looked as though Hingis was pulling away, Venus stole the second set. Just when it looked as though Williams was pulling away, Hingis scored an early break in the third. When Hingis was two points from winning the match, Williams won the point of the year and stormed back to take the next four games. As Williams spun like a top and eventually made her way to the net after match point, she mouthed the word, "Unbelievable." Our sentiments exactly.

What makes the Hingis-Venus rivalry so special? For one, there are the obvious physical differences, the tall, lithe African-American from Compton vs. the porcelain Caucasian with the Swiss/Czech provenance. That there's been no love lost between the two doesn't hurt the storyline, either. It's not exactly a blood feud, but their post-match "handshake" -- more a random clipping of palms -- spoke volumes about the state of their relationship. Further, that neither player harbors much interest in humility creates distinct rooting interests. What tennis fan was indifferent to the outcome?

But beyond surface characteristics, the most compelling disparities, finally, are the ones on the court. Referring to boxing, someone once remarked, "Styles make fights." So, too, tennis. Hingis and Venus are both spectacular players, but they're utterly different. One zigs where the other zags. It's not merely the time-honored, power vs. finesse dichotomy -- though Venus did have 51 winners to Hingis' 13. They like different angles, they like to employ different spots on the court, they prefer different speeds, heights and spins. As Hingis confessed to me last month, "Venus tests me in a way that Lindsay [Davenport] and Serena [Williams] don't."

Venus will now move on to the final, trying to extend her winning streak to 26 matches, encompassing two Slams. She hasn't lost a match since Roland Garros, though she nearly did Friday. "I know how it feels to be close to losing," Venus said afterward. But losing outright? "That's a foreign concept and not a very accepted one," she said. For Hingis, it isn't particularly well-accepted either. She can take some consolation, though, knowing that among all great rivalries, the winners and losers invariably swap roles.

Half volleys

In the other, less breathtaking semifinal, Davenport was leading Elena Dementieva 6-2, 5-2 and 40-0. Rarely perceived as a player who tightens when the pressure's on, Davenport had to go to a tiebreaker to win the second set. ... Nice week for Lleyton Hewitt. Not only will he play Pete Sampras for a spot in the men's final, but he and partner Max Mirnyi took the men's doubles trophy Friday. ... Serena Williams is back in Florida, getting treatment on her left big toe. ... The inimitable Goran Ivanisevic may have lost more than a week ago, but he was still around the courts, presumably practicing before the Olympics.

Sports Illustrated staff writer Jon Wertheim will file daily reports from the Open.

 
Related information
Stories
Williams defeats Hingis 4-6, 6-3, 7-5
Thursday's On the Court: Safin entertains with racket and mouth
Multimedia
Visit Multimedia Central for the latest audio and video
Search our site Watch CNN/SI 24 hours a day

Sports Illustrated and CNN have combined to form a 24 hour sports news and information channel. To receive CNN/SI at your home call your cable operator or DirecTV.


CNNSI Copyright © 2001
CNN/Sports Illustrated
An AOL Time Warner Company.
All Rights Reserved.

Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.