S. Williams best show of tournament's Day 1

With clothes, easy win, she grabs early spotlight

other big names struggle

U.S. Open

August 31, 2004|By Jeff Williams | Jeff Williams,NEWSDAY

NEW YORK - Serena Williams didn't make much of a tennis statement last night.

Despite a 53-minute, 6-1, 6-3 victory over Sandra Kleinova; despite 35 winners and seven aces; despite winning 83 percent of the points played, her victory wasn't about tennis.

Her appearance at Arthur Ashe Stadium instead was a fashion statement, one of the highest order.

Attired in a black top with studs; a pleated, jeans-look skirt and oh-so-noticeable black shoe "boots," all of her own design, Williams made a runway return to the U.S. Open. The style, she said, was "Rebel Without a Cause."

Of course, you could say she has plenty of cause at this Open. Surgery on her left knee last August forced her to miss the tournament, in which she was the defending champion.

She has one victory this year, at Key Biscayne, and runner-up finishes at Wimbledon and Los Angeles. She pulled out of the tournament last week in New Haven, Conn., to make sure the knee would be strong enough for the Open. But all along, she had more in mind for this week than just a successful return to the national championship.

At the 2002 Open, which she won, she introduced the black cat suit to the tennis fashion community. Last night the black top with the silver studs and the denim skirt were certainly eye-catchers, but it was those shoe "boots," sort of mod leg warmers, that caught everyone's attention. She warmed up wearing them. Was she actually going to play in them?

"Well, I got confused because I could wear them while I'm playing because they're breath- able and they're a really cool, light fabric," Williams said. "They were so comfortable, I was trying to decide if I should take them off or if I should leave them on. Then I thought, `OK, I don't want to be distracted.' So I just decided to take them off."

Kleinova, dressed in a conventional black and white top and skirt, clearly wasn't up to either of the statements Williams made. It really doesn't make a difference what Williams is wearing when she's serving more than 100 mph and driving her ground strokes deep. Because Kleinova wasn't able to run Williams around, that tender left knee wasn't tested or strained.

Williams accentuated her clothing with floppy, flashy earrings, a necklace and an armband. "It's like the rebel look, like I'm being really rebellious," she said. "I'm just doing things different with the black and the studs. I'm just being a rebel."

Williams' play was definitely of Grand Slam caliber, a step above what fellow major champions Jennifer Capriati, Roger Federer and Carlos Moya showed in shaky victories earlier on Day 1.

Todd Martin, the 1999 Open runner-up, lost the final match of his career, announcing his retirement after being beaten by No. 31 Fabrice Santoro, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, 7-5.

Only one man in the draw is older than Martin, by a matter of months: Andre Agassi, 34, who followed Williams on center court and beat Robby Ginepri, 7-6 (5), 6-4, 6-2. Agassi is the last of his generation now that Martin has joined Pete Sampras, Michael Chang and Jim Courier in retirement.

"In some respects, you miss everyone you grew up with," Agassi said. "You do."

Frustrated by a strong breeze, her opponent's superb play and her own miscues, Capriati trailed 54th-ranked Denise Chladkova by a set, then put together a 2-6, 6-1, 6-2 victory.

Federer struggled, too, but got past 2002 French Open champion Albert Costa, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4. Third-seeded Moya had his problems against 19-year-old Brian Baker but came back to win, 6-7 (6), 6-4, 6-4, 6-2, after Baker was hit by what he called "nervous cramps."

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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