Williams serves up game of confidence Straight-set victory over Kruger gains her a place in quarterfinals

U.S. Open

September 01, 1997|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- Venus Williams dances off the Arthur Ashe Stadium court after her passage into the U.S. Open quarterfinals. Her hair clattering, as the 1,800 red, white and blue beads braided into it knock against each other.

Welcome to the world of Venus, where life on and off the court seems to be a game in which only Williams knows the rules.

"I'm completely different from anyone else," says Williams, 17. "I can't help it. I just am. Tiger Woods is something different in golf and I also am different. I'm tall. I'm black. Just face the facts."

The facts are this powerful, 6-foot-2 woman has been written about as a coming phenom for the last five years. Fans of tennis have read about her liking for alternative rock, French and puppies. They also know that she has been protected from the tour by her father, Richard, who did not allow her to enter a Grand Slam tournament until this year.

The facts are that she lost in the second round at the French Open and in the first at Wimbledon, and her father wasn't going to let her play here, "but I convinced him," Williams said. "I used leverage."

The facts are that when Williams beat Joannette Kruger yesterday, 6-2, 6-3, to move into the quarterfinals against Sandrine Testud, the 17th-ranked player in the world, it marked only the third time in her career that she has ever ventured this far into any tour tournament. Williams, the No. 66-ranked player, has yet to win a singles title.

But her timing is impeccable. During a week in which pro tennis is celebrating it's new Arthur Ashe Stadium, named after the only black male to ever become a tennis icon, Williams has arrived. She's here just in time to pick up the mantle laid down by such memorable women's players as Althea Gibson, Renee Blount, Leslie Allen, Zina Garrison and Lori McNeil. McNeil announced her retirement from singles after a first-round loss here last week.

Williams has arrived with a huge serve that pops off her racket at 114 mph and an attitude. She expresses so much self-confidence, she has alienated a number of players because that confidence sometimes borders on rudeness.

"I said 'Hi,' to her one day in the locker room," said No. 2 seed Monica Seles, who also advanced yesterday with a 1-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory over No. 9 seed Mary Pierce. "She did not say it back. She and her sister, and her mom too, they seem to be going all the time their own way. They stay in their own little separate group."

"She never talks to anyone," added No. 6 seed Lindsay Davenport. "Earlier this year, we were passing in the locker room and I said, 'Hi!' and she looked at me and [huffed]. I won't try that again."

Williams remains a mystery to many. And that, of course, is part of her plan.

Certainly Kruger, who lost to Williams yesterday, admitted that she began the match already intimidated by the big serving, hard-hitting Williams.

"I think we create the situation in our heads," said Kruger. "We're playing Venus. Venus is the next [big] player. I think you put it on yourself to say, 'Hey, what am I going to do here today to win? I've got to do something great.' I think that's not the attitude to have. She's a human girl."

Testud, who faces Williams tomorrow, does not appear bothered, however, though she too is in her first Grand Slam quarterfinal.

"Williams played quite a good match," said Testud. "She didn't make any mistakes. But I'm pretty happy about the draw. She doesn't intimidate me. I do think she has gotten a lot of attention without having done much. But I don't care. I'm just trying to play good tennis."

And Williams doesn't care what anyone else thinks, anyway. She remembers when she was a kid, her father and mother tried to tell her she couldn't beat men's players.

"My parents could never get me to understand that I couldn't," she said. "I was like, 'Look at my backhand, it's better than theirs.' Finally, they stopped trying to convince me."

Now she seems to think she's better than -- if not all, then most of -- the other women's players here. Up a set and a break at 3-0 in the second set, Williams "smiled" at Kruger on the changeover. It so riled Kruger that she won the next two games and had two break points that would have evened the set. But Williams prevailed.

"I don't know what she meant by the smile," said Kruger. "But it came over as being, 'Do you have anything more than that to show me?' "

Williams later said she hadn't smiled, but had simply given Kruger "an amused look."

"When I want to smile, I smile," Williams said. "If I don't want to, I'm not going to. I think it's a little bit peevish. Smiling, what does that have to do with anything? I don't care. They have feelings and they can feel whatever way they want to, but I don't want to be part of it."

Most young players on the Corel WTA Tour try to fit in. Williams doesn't seem to want to do that. And she doesn't want to hide her confidence either.

"I just kind of feel that I can make any shot anywhere on the court," she said. "That's just the way I feel."

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