Home, sweet home

SAN DIEGO, California, Reuters

Monica Seles said Venus Williams was pushing the level of women’s tennis to new heights after she was beaten 6-2, 6-3 by the Wimbledon champion in the final of the US$750,000 Acura Classic on Sunday.

“Everybody is beatable, but to beat Venus you have to have the same weapons and not many players do,” said Seles, who could not make it a hat trick of big wins after defeating world No. 1 Martina Hingis on Saturday and No. 2 Jennifer Capriati 24 hours earlier.

“She (Williams) is a lot more consistent than she used to be and doesn’t have many lapses. Venus has that very tough combo of a great serve and powerful groundstrokes, plus she has incredible court coverage.”

In capturing her fourth title of the year, American Williams, 21, showed off her amazing athleticism, improved technique on her forehand and a great deal of court savvy.

“More than anything, I’m a competitor,” said Williams, who lost only 23 games and didn’t concede a set during the event.

“Win or lose, I want the other person to say, ‘I don’t want to play Venus Williams. If I have to go two-and-a-half hours, I’d rather play the next person.’

“As long as they feel like that when they play me, that’s OK. Either that, or I want to win 6-0, 6-0.”

Seles faced medium paced serves against Hingis and Capriati but didn’t have that luxury in the final.

Williams is the tour’s dominant server and terrorised her opponent with flat blasts down the tee or wicked slice deliveries into all angles of the box.

In registering her sixth win over Seles in as many attempts, Williams smacked 13 aces and 37 winners. Now that she has her service toss mostly under control, Venus is becoming nearly as unbreakable as Pete Sampras.

“When I’m serving well, I’m really clear on how I want to hit it,” said Williams. “I know where I want it to go and I can see myself hitting it.

“When I’m double-faulting a lot I’m not clear how or where I want it to be. I lose my way. Right now, I’m hitting as I see fit. I’m not hitting as many kicks as I was, I’m just hitting flat slices and it’s going in every time.”

American Seles, 27, said she could not read Williams’ bullets.

“To my eyes, she was using the same toss, so it’s really difficult. Even if I do get there, if it’s a 115 mph serve, it’s very hard to return.”

Like she did in tearing apart Lindsay Davenport in the semifinals, Williams was red hot in the first set, blowtorching serves, whacking her groundstrokes to all angles and aggressively attacking any short ball.

Seles had her chances in the first game of the match, holding three break points, but she couldn’t convert and Williams quickly took control.

The 6-foot-2-inch Williams broke Seles to lead 4-2 with two full-swing volleys on the run and a forehand down the line that kissed the tape. She took the set by breaking Seles with a thumping crosscourt backhand.

In the second set, Williams raced into a 4-0 lead as she dominated the centre of the court. Seles valiantly attempted to grind her way back into the match and broke serve with a crosscourt backhand.

But Seles would never again gain another break point as Williams got back in the serving zone. She held for 5-2 with a 113 mph ace, and in the final game, served three straight slice serve aces away from Seles’ backhand to capture the title.

Despite her wins here and at Wimbledon four weeks ago, Williams said she could still get better.

“I want to improve my first serve percentage and move better because I’m not always on my toes,” said Williams, who also beat Seles here in last year’s final.

“Other than that I think I’m OK because I’m playing the important points well. I have to force myself to move forward and not back off. I’m getting the effort out of myself that I want.”

Despite successfully defending her title, Williams fell to number four in the rankings behind Lindsay Davenport.

World No. 3 Davenport earned more points this week by getting through to the semifinals because she only reached the second round here last year.

On Monday, Martina Hingis will start her 200th week as number one. The Swiss player has a lead of 1,200 points over Capriati but only 120 points separate the next three.

“I’m not that far off from being number two and not too far from being number one,” said Williams. “If anything, it makes it more competitive with myself, Lindsay and Capriati all fighting for number two to get to number one.”