Sun, Jul 06, 2003 - Page 24 News List

Venus to play with an injury in finals

WIMBLEDON Instead of practicing, Venus Williams rested and got treatment on an abdominal muscle that was re-injured during the semifinals on Thursday

AP , WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND

Australia's Mark Philippoussis returns to France's Sebastien Grosjean in their men's singles semi-final match at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London on Friday. Philippoussis won the match 7-6, 6-3, 6-3.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Check out who's back in a Grand Slam final: Two Williams sisters. Well, it might be more like just one and a half.

When they meet Saturday in a rematch of the 2002 Wimbledon championship, Serena Williams will be defending her title against an injured opponent, big sis Venus.

While Serena hit on the practice courts at the All England Club on Friday, Venus stayed at home to rest and get treatment for the strained abdominal muscle that has pestered her for two months and flared up during the semifinals.

"She's definitely a tough opponent, and she's playing very well, but it doesn't matter who is on the other side of the net," said Venus, the 2000-2001 Wimbledon winner. "I'm still going to go for it. I would love to win here again."

It will be their sixth showdown for a major title, and it's not the first time Venus has been hurt. She was hindered by a right shoulder problem during the Wimbledon final a year ago, and two months later took on Serena for the US Open title with tape on her right hand to cover a blister.

Both times, Venus lost. Both times, she discounted the injuries' significance.

Neither appeared to be as serious as her current malady, which had her gasping for air or doubling over between points Thursday against Kim Clijsters.

During the third game of that 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 victory, Venus aggravated the muscle injury that first forced her to stop playing during the final of a tournament in Poland in May, then contributed to her fourth-round French Open exit.

But she toughed it out.

"I never retired out of a Grand Slam match, and I just felt I couldn't do it," Venus said. "Obviously, if I got to the point where I really just was feeling really horrible, awful and awful, I would hang up the racket. I'm no fool."

From the first Wimbledon women's final in 1884 -- incidentally, the only time siblings not named Williams met in a Grand Slam final -- never has a player quit during the match or failed to show up because of an injury.

Two men's finals weren't completed. In 1911, H. Roper Barnett retired during the fifth set, ceding the title to Anthony Wilding, and in 1931, Sidney Wood Jr. won in a walkover when Francis Shields didn't play at all.

"I'm going to do what I can," the fourth-seeded Venus said. "I have to at least show up for the final."

Serena has played very much like a player ranked No. 1, and someone who has won four of the past five majors [to lead Venus 5-4 overall in Slams].

She's doing everything quite well, even if she always asks herself for more.

"I can't afford to be 70-to-80 percent. If I'm not 100 percent, it is going to be hard for me to win," Serena said, looking ahead to Saturday. "It's not easy for me to play someone I care so much about."

Indeed, that's been a knock against the siblings: As fantastic as they are against everyone else, they don't always seem to bring out the best in each other on court.

The 2002 Wimbledon final was an exception, with both smacking balls with full force and chasing down each other's apparent winners to the corners. It was riveting for 1 1/2 sets -- Serena won 7-6 (4), 6-3 -- and probably was the best of their 11 head-to-head matches. Serena holds a 6-5 edge, including wins in the past five matchups, all Grand Slam finals.

Venus is only the third woman to reach four straight Wimbledon finals, after Chris Evert (1978-1981) and Martina Navratilova (1982-1990). And she might not have made it without Serena's help. During a rain delay less than an hour into her match against Clijsters, Venus was in a bad state. Down a set and in real pain, she was panicking in the locker room.

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