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Last Updated: Sunday, 6 July, 2003, 13:15 GMT 14:15 UK
Sisters demonstrate gap in class
By Caroline Cheese
BBC Sport at Wimbledon

It was no classic encounter, but the Wimbledon final proved that the Williams sisters are still clearly the dominant force in women's tennis.

Venus squeezed every last drop of effort from her aching body but in the end was unable to keep up with a fully-fit and title-hungry Serena.

WOMEN'S TOP TEN
Venus and Serena Williams embrace after the end of the match
1 S Williams 6006 (12)
2 K Clijsters 5388 (22)
3 J Henin 4823 (20)
4 V Williams 4028 (12)
5 L Davenport 3477 (19)
6 A Mauresmo 3454 (15)
7 J Capriati 2550 (19)
8 C Rubin 2544 (20)
9 D Hantuchova 2325 (24)
10 A Myskina 1874 (25)
Number of events in brackets

Until Venus picked up an injury in the semi-finals, Serena acknowledged that her sister had been the most impressive player at the Championships.

Even struggling with pain, she still had enough to see off Kim Clijsters in the last four and take a set from an admittedly off-form Serena in the final.

But while Serena is still the world number one according to the rankings, Venus will remain back in fourth after this fortnight.

Their father Richard insisted even before his daughters had won a tournament that they would one day be numbers one and two in the world.

While his vision became a reality for a time last year, Venus has since slipped back while only a super-human effort from Serena has allowed her to stay in pole position.

If she had not won Wimbledon, Serena was in grave danger of losing her number one status to Clijsters, who is yet to win a single Grand Slam title, let alone the six that Williams has collected.

Venus, who has won four majors and reached five finals in the last six Slams, sits behind Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne, who only recently won her first Grand Slam title at the French Open.

The reason is simple - the Williams sisters cherry pick their events in order to give themselves sufficient rest and relaxation time in the year.

Rankings are based on a player's 17 best events in the previous 12 months - Venus and Serena have played only 12 while Clijsters has competed in almost twice as many at 22 and Henin-Hardenne 20.

That means that the Belgians can afford the odd slip-up and their rankings will not be affected, but just one off-day for the sisters, or even an injury, could cost them dear.

But if anything, the vagaries of the rankings show just how far ahead of their rivals Venus and Serena are.

A tour trainer talks to a suffering Venus Williams
Venus' performance while injured showed her class

Of the 12 events she has played, Serena has won seven, and only once failed to reach at least the semi-finals.

Venus, who has struggled with injury and form in recent months, has nonetheless won four titles, reached three finals and made the semis of another event.

The sisters could argue that the very reason they remain the players to beat is because they look after their bodies rather than chase the lucre available by playing more events.

Serena says she had no intention of making any dramatic changes to her schedule in order to keep her number one status.

"I would love to stay number one," she said. "But I think 12 tournaments is enough.

"It's hard to keep up with the Belgian girls. They're playing every week and winning all the time, and I don't play every week."

Venus admits she is not happy to see herself behind the Belgians in the rankings, but says she is physically unable to play any more.

"I'll do my best to get back in the rankings but I'm not going to play 25 tournaments," she said. "I just wouldn't be able to. I think I'd die on the court."

And when you consider that former world number one Martina Hingis was forced to retire at the age of 21 due to a foot injury, their decision seems entirely sensible.

But it means that come the US Open in August, the sisters are unlikely to be seeded one and two - indeed, they may not occupy either spot.

As Wimbledon has proved, while the Belgians are gradually closing the gap in class, the rankings do not even come close to telling the whole story of women's tennis in 2003.





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