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From She Really Likes What She Sees

TENNIS: Serena Williams is bubbling over with confidence after rising to No. 1

Times Staff Writer

August 7 2002

According to her official biography in the WTA tour media guide, Serena Williams' favorite place to visit is "the mirror in her house."

These days, the smiling blond reflection is especially regal.

The self-assured Serena, seeded No. 1 this week in the JPMorgan Chase Open at Manhattan Country Club in Manhattan Beach, last month supplanted older sister Venus as the world's top-ranked women's tennis player.

Venus, 22, still leads in Grand Slam events won, four to three, but the muscular Serena, 20, stepped out of her sister's lanky shadow this summer by winning the French Open and Wimbledon championships. Defeating Venus in both finals, she took her first major titles since the 1999 U.S. Open.

Clearly the power player setting the standard on the WTA tour, Serena has won 50 of 54 matches since squandering six match points last August at Manhattan Beach in an improbable quarterfinal loss to Monica Seles.

She has won three matches in a row in straight sets over Venus—on a hard-court surface in the semifinals at Miami in March, on clay in the French Open two months ago and on grass at Wimbledon last month.

A champion in seven of her last 11 tournaments, among them the season-ending tour championships last November at Munich, Serena has won her last three events and will carry a 19-match winning streak into her second-round match tonight against Lina Krasnoroutskaya of Russia. It will be Serena's first as the world's No. 1-ranked player.

"I'm very happy," the Wimbledon champion said this week during a brief news conference at Manhattan Beach. "I've never been this happy in my career. I'm No. 1. I've won a few more Grand Slams.

"This is what I've been wanting to do all my life, and I want to do more. I have so much more that I would like to do.

"Really, I'm just getting started."

Serena jump-started the Williams' Grand Slam victory parade three years ago when she surprised herself—and stunned her sister—by winning the U.S. Open a few weeks before she celebrated her 18th birthday.

But her title was seen almost as an aberration when Venus shot to the top of the rankings, winning consecutive Wimbledon and U.S. Open championships.

The youngest of five daughters born to Richard and Oracene Williams, Venus and Serena have been packaged as a flamboyant team known simply as "The Sisters," but Venus had clearly been the better of the two.

Serena, her ranking sliding up and down the lower register of the top 10 but never climbing higher than No. 4, didn't reach the final of another Grand Slam event until last year's U.S. Open. Her 6-2, 6-4 loss to Venus left her 1-5 against her sister.

Since then, however, little sister has bulldozed her way to the top, her percussive power game producing a 36-3 record and five titles this year.

"She's always been there," Venus said this week, sharing a stage with her sister for a product endorsement. "So it's no surprise to me."

But something has changed.

”She's not missing as much," Venus said. "[There] comes a point where you just have to stop [making errors], and she found that point, I guess."

Had Venus seen it coming? After all, the sisters share a mansion in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., not to mention a practice court and a close relationship.

"Not really," Venus said, laughing. "She didn't give me the heads up."

Nor had others been warned.

An ankle injury forced Serena to sit out the Australian Open, the only Grand Slam event she has not won. Rejecting suggestions she was a hypochondriac, she won titles at Scottsdale, Ariz., and Miami before heading off to Europe, where she added the Italian, French and Wimbledon titles.

In doing so, she forged her own identity, apart from her sister.

"I used to think I was Venus," she told reporters after her Wimbledon victory. "I thought I liked things she liked. I realized I didn't like tomatoes. I don't like mushrooms. I had to realize I was a different kind of person.

"I think this kind of helped. From little things like that to bigger things, I realize I'm a totally different person than she is."

For one thing, she is more outgoing. And, for now, maybe hungrier?

"I don't play the same game Serena plays," Venus said at Wimbledon. "For her, it's all or nothing. For me, it's not this."

Not even the arrest of a German man allegedly stalking her could keep Serena from ending her sister's 20-match Wimbledon winning streak. A 7-6 (4), 6-3 winner in the final, she seemed unmoved by the arrest outside the grounds a few days earlier of Albrecht Stromeyer, who allegedly had pursued her for months.

"I was just really mentally focused this summer," she said this week, speaking generally of her breakthrough. "I really wanted to win these tournaments.

"I haven't lost [the desire to win]. I'm still trying to get there. I'm still trying to win a few more. I think [Venus] has [won] six tournaments this year [after Sunday's victory at Carlsbad], so I have to catch up to her again."

Displacing her sister at the top of the world rankings was difficult emotionally, Serena indicated, but if anybody was going to do it, why not her?

"At this level, everyone's fighting," she said. "I'm sure Venus is definitely going to try to come up and get me again. I think if you get there [to No. 1], it really doesn't matter ... who you have to overcome."

Her ascent to No. 1, she realizes, couldn't have been better timed.

Her clothing contract with Puma expires this year, and it has been speculated that a new deal could be worth more than her sister's reported $40-million contract with Reebok, the most lucrative in history for a female athlete.

Serena declined to address the topic this week, but when asked at Wimbledon if her expiring contract was an incentive to "show the world and next shoe company" that she was worth it, she jumped on it like a lazy service return.

"Well, I definitely am," she told reporters. "I'm really exciting. I smile a lot. I win a lot, and I'm really sexy."

Looking into her mirror, Serena Williams likes what she sees.

Copyright 2002 Los Angeles Times