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n r r THE PALM BEACH POST SATURDAY, MARCH 28, 1998 9C lb Dip DIDfifflffl) R counting off I set lost by third seed Marcelo Rios in his five matches played to reach Sunday's final. ising teen tennis stars in Lipton hna 4he tournament WHERE: Tennis Center at Crandon Park, Key Biscayne. WHEN: Through Sunday. DIRECTIONS: Take Interstate 95 ; south to Key Biscayne exit. Head ' east and over the Rickenbacker Causeway. Tennis center is on c fight. .. . ' "TICKETS: $20-$40. Call (305) " 442-3367. - J TV: 1-3 p.m., ESPN. , 1 mmm" mmm.mwmmmmm.'-K''mmttivmm i J- A, i v kr it) :V! wm i THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Venus Williams (left) and Anna Kournikova, who meet today in the Lipton women's singles final, are expected to make women's tennis more competitive this year, after Martina Hingis dominated singles play last year. Tale of the tape Venus Williams and Anna Kournikova will play each other for the first time in today's Lipton Championships final. How do they compare? intersect By Elizabeth Clarke , Palm Beach Post Staff Writer KEY BISCAYNE Venus Williams and Anna Kournikova will step onto the court for today's Lipton final with no firsthand knowledge of each other's game. But it would be difficult for either to say she doesn't know much about the other. These teenage phenoms have been two of the most talked about players on the WTA Tour for the past year. Williams, 17, has been a whirling body of beads getting attention for everything from her ghetto background to her unpredictable father to her status as the best black woman playing professional tennis in years. Kournikova, 16, has been a premature sex symbol most of her teenage life, particularly since last year's Wimbledon, where British tabloid journalists wrote more about her clothes and her much-denied relationship with fellow Russian Sergei Fedorov of the Detroit Red Wings than about her tennis ability. Finding these two young stars in the final of the biggest non-Grand Slam tournament of the year likely signals the beginning of a more competitive era for 17-year-old Martina Hingis, who dominated the tour last year and has been No. 1 since she won this tournament a year ago. "There are a lot of changes right now, in this tournament, in women's tennis," Kournikova said after upsetting her fourth straight top-10 opponent Thursday night. "It's going to be something different, something new." Until this week, both Kournikova and Williams had struggled with beating top-10 players consistently. Williams had particular trouble with Hingis until dominating in their semifinal Thursday. Kournikova had faltered against a variety of players. But in this tournament, Kournikova became the first player of any rank to beat four top-10 players in a single event since the women's ranking system began in 1987. The players, in order, were Monica Seles (4), Conchita Martinez (9), Lindsay Davenport (2) and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (8). "It's definitely the best time of my life right now," Kournikova said. "Even after I lost the first set (against Sanchez Vicario), I thought, 'Wow, this is great. I'm playing.' All these matches, I'm surprised but I'm not nervous at all." Williams has been just as confident in reaching the fourth final of her career. She won her first title in Oklahoma City earlier this month, six months after her finals debut in New York. She lost to Hingis 6-0, 6-4 and seemed uncomfortable on court for her first final that day at the U.S. Open. Today, m her biggest final since, Williams won't have the same problem. The Palm Beach Gardens resident says VENUS WILLIAMS AGE 17 BIRTHDATE 6-17-80 HOMETOWN Palm Beach Gardens BORN Lynwood, Calif. HEIGHT 6-1 ft RANKED A YEAR AGO 211 RANKED THIS WEEK 11 EXPECTED NEW RANK 10 CAREER TITLES 1 FINALS REACHED 4 FAVORITE COLOR Silver TENNIS HAIRSTYLE Lots of beaded braids OTHER SPORTS Surfing, in-line skating ACES AT LIPTON 19 TOP LIPTON SERVE 122 mph STYLE OF GAME All-around, aggressive ON BOYS Slightly interested, too busy ON MEN Not interested INTERESTS Reading, guitar, movies 3 times Alex Corretja had lost his serve in four matches before playing Andre Agassi on Friday night. 5 points won by Great Britain's ; Tim Henman in the third set of his semifinal against Rios. After ; playing an outstanding serve-and-volley second set, Henman let down in the third and never recovered, losing the match 6-2, 4-6, 6-0. 10 consecutive matches Rios has won, matching a career high from earlier this year. His semifinal victory Friday means his ranking will improve from third to second next week. A win in the final will bump him to No. 1 instead. 133 mph, fastest serve recorded by a male player at the tournament. Pete Sampras holds that record from just two rounds played. 351 televisions throughout the tennis center, including those in the media center, for fans and working press to watch matches during the 1 1-day tournament. Attn Ann cups, hot and cold, tou,wv printed wjth Upton colors, logos or player images. The majority 275,000 were 16-ounce cold cups. court quirks TENNIS BALL COOTIES Tim Henman won't serve just any ball. He checks each one , carefully for something ; before almost every one of his ; first serves. He collects three balls from the ballkids and puts: all of them in his left hand for ; study and examination while he walks back to the baseline. ; There, he tosses the one rejected ball behind him, leaving a ballkid scurrying again, and ; puts one in his pocket before 1 serving the third. Apparently, he doesn't catch every contaminated ball. Just 51 -percent of his first serves went in Friday. stargazing : Three Miami Dolphins players have spent significant time on tennis this week. Zach Thomas, Olindo Mare and Larry Izzo watched Martina Hingis squeak past Serena Williams on Tuesday, then went home to Plantation and straight out to the courts. They returned Thursday to see Venus Williams oust Hingis and are expected back for today's final. aces and faces Few players, American or otherwise, have gotten the full-bodied, passionate crowd encouragement that Chilean : Marcelo Rios has enjoyed this The 23-year-old player has been playing some of the best tennis of his life in this tournament and he said the Davis Cup atmosphere doesn't hurt. About half a dozen groups of Rios fans have attended most of his matches, carrying flags and wearing T-shirts and hats for Chile. They also have been singing. "Chi-, chi-, chi-, -le, -le, -le. Viva Chile," is the chant. And it sounds a heck of a lot better than a few fans who were urging on Tim Henman with a not very musical or very creative chant of "Tim. Tim. Tim." The noise didn't bother Henman, though. "I think it was a great atmosphere out there," he said. "The better the atmosphere the crowd creates, that tends to lift me, whether it's for me or against me." results -Men . ; Singles Semifinals Marcelo Rios (3) def. Tim .Henman 6-2, 4-6, 6-0. Andre Agassi def. Alex orretja (8) 6-4, 6-2. Doubles Semifinals n Alex O'Brien and Jonathan Stark def. Mark Knowles and Daniel Nestor 6-3, 6-4. Women Doubles Quarterfinals Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Natasha Zvereva def. Anna Kournikova and Larisa Neiland 6-4, 4-6, 6-3. elsewhere i TWO SEEDS OUSTED o' Fourth-seeded Elena Wagner bf Germany moved into the semifinals of the $25,000 USTA Women's Pro Tennis Challenger of The Woodlands (Texas) with a -4, 6-3 victory over Karin Miller of Bradenton. j Wagner is the highest ' 'seeded player left in the tournament. ; ' Also grabbing semifinal berths were Samantha Smith of Britain, Israel's Anna Smashnova and Jolene Watanabe of ' 'Glendora, Calif. Smith defeated Jane Chi of Meridian, Idaho, 6-3, 6-1; I Smashnova stopped China's Jian Qian Yi 7-6 (8-6), 6-2, and Watanabe downed Meghann Shaughnessy of Scottsdale, Ariz., 6-1,6-4. 'ARAZI UPSET French qualifier Sebastian Grosjean scored a big upset in the Grand Prix Hassan II, beating defending champion and 6econd-seed Hicham Arazi of Morocco 7-5, 2-6, 6-3 in the quarterfinals. The 19-year-old closed out a rain-interrupted match by breaking Arazi's serve at 5-3 in the third set. The crowd jeered and whistled Arazi off court. , Grosjean had previously won pnly one main-draw ATP Tour match in his career. ;. He will meet fourth-seeded Andrea Gaudenzi of Italy in today's semifinals. ,; Gaudenzi beat Spain's Juan .Antonio Marin, the No. 6 seed, 6-7 (4-7), 7-5, 6-2 in 2 hours, 33 . minutes, to gain his first semifinal of the season. .- In the other quarterfinals, top-seeded Albero Portas of Spain was beaten by compatriot Alex Caltrava, ranked 1 10th, 6-4, 6-2, and third-seeded Karim Alami of Morocco downed Fernando Vicente of Spain 3-6, ,7-6 (7-4), 7-5. today's matches Day sessions begin at 11 a.m. Night sessions begin at 7:30 p.m. Stadium day sessions ' Venus Williams ( 1 1 ) vs. Anna Kournikova (23); Alex O'Brien Jonathan Stark (8) vs. Ellis FerreiraRick Leach (7); Julie Halard-DecugisRachel ' McQuillan vs. Arantxa Sanchez VicanoNatasha Zvereva (2). updates 511: Call 51 1 and enter . category 3861 for 511 frequent updates on i J The Lipton tennis ' tournament. 50 for up o 5 mm. See page 2A for more detals. IKTERHET: For coverage of The Lipton on line, go to Palm Beach Interactive: www GoPBl.comSportsTown Agassi's travel plans: To the top by ANNA KOURNIKOVA 16 6-7-81 Miami Beach Moscow 5-8 90 25 20 0 1 Black One long braid Pro basketball, hockey 6 107 mph All-around, likes net play Not interested Close friends with Detroit Red Wings' Sergei Fedorov Dance, reading, television Serena. . . , "It feels good," Williams said. "Everyone here (who) reads about me in the paper when I'm overseas or away out of state gets to see me. I like playing here." end of the year THE ASSOCIATED PRESS big point against Alex Corretja to incite, match on the next point. (the winner) is who's going to control the points," Agassi said. "And if he can handle my pace and be precise with it God bless the man." All you Agassi doubters, pay attention. On-court proposal: Tom Moore, a veteran tournament volunteer also known as the "poetry man," had written a few special lines and from stadium court Friday, the 52 -year-old Miami man used them to ask girlfriend Maddie Sharp to marry him. Sharp, who was sitting courtside, said yes. She also received roses and champagne from the Lipton. B Ticket update: Tickets to the men's singles final Sunday at noon have sold out but about 1.000 remained Friday night to todav's women's final, also at noon. Tickets cost $45. Call (305) 442-3367 for i she loves playing in South Florida with friends and family watching and cheering. Her father plans to be here with improved signs from the ones he had for the semifinal along with her mom and sister Andre Aeassi got Dumped enough after a then acknowledge, the crowd. He won the "I try not to make too many mistakes, not to go for so many shots," Rios said. "I try to play intelligently." As one of the year's two winningest players on tour, along with Agassi, Rios has seen improved results. He reached the final of the Australian Open, where he lost to Petr Korda, and has won two titles, including last week's Indian Wells event. He is pleased Agassi will be his opponent. The two have never played but Rios likes having a shot at a former No. 1 to get to No. 1. Agassi is just as eager for the chance to earn his first major win since the 1996 Olympic gold medal and, before that since his third Lipton title in 1996. His last Grand Slam victory came at the 1995 Australian Open. "ntimately. what's going to determine s r UPTON From 1C He celebrated by encouraging the screaming crowd, with arms raised, then with little shooting motions all around stadium court at The Lipton Championships. He won the match with a lob on the next point, defeating the eighth seed 6-4, 6-2. With the victory, the 31st-ranked player in the world advanced to a final Sunday against third-ranked Marcelo Rios. A win by Rios, who beat Tim Henman 6-2, 4-6, 6-0 in the other semifinal, would put Rios at the No. 1 spot in the rankings. An Agassi win would leave Pete Sampras in place and bump Rios up just one spot to second. All you doubters, listen. "I don't know why they're talking about Rios and Sampras," Agassi told the crowd after his match. "At the end of the year, I'm going to be ranked No. 1." His ranking which was 141st in November will improve to the top 20 (about 17th) if he wins this tournament, about 22nd if he doesn't Agassi hasn't been No. 1 since two weeks in early 1996, just before Sampras took over. He also was No. 1 for 30 weeks in 1995. Taking another big step toward returning to the top will require a win Sunday, something Henman doesn't think will be easy. Henman had been playing excellent tennis until he lost fairly easily to Rios. "He's not giving away any cheap points," Henman said of Rios. "I think that is making life difficult for his opponents and made life difficult for me today." I lenman improved his serving and volleying to win the second set, but he couldn't hang on after Rios broke him at love in the first game of the third. He won just five of 29 points in the final set. "I think I can't be more confident," Rios said. "I've been winning a lot of matches, winning easy matches, winning tough matches, making some finals. I feel pretty good." A year ago, Rios was a top-10 player but not someone considered a huge threat. He had never made it past the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam or won a major tournament. In the past few months, he has improved his fitness and shot selection.