Williams: Triumph In Defeat

OAKLAND, California -- If ever a player scored a triumph in defeat, Venus Williams accomplished it in a match against Arantxa Sanchez Vicario that ranked among the greatest starts of any tennis phenomenon.

At 14, Williams justified the hoopla that has surrounded her since she gave up junior tournament play three years ago. Now she holds a legitimate claim to the future of women's tennis.

In a gem of an opening set Wednesday night, Williams thoroughly outplayed the No. 2-ranked Sanchez Vicario, the U.S. Open and French Open champion, beating her from the baseline and at the net, outsmarting her, hitting harder and more accurately.

Williams, at 1.85 meters (6-foot-1), looked every inch a poised professional in only her second match. It was not for lack of skills or tennis smarts that she wound up losing 2-6, 6-3, 6-0 in the Bank of the West Classic. It was simply fatigue, the mental and physical weariness of playing against one of the toughest and most relentless players in the game.

"I'm not sure I'll ever have anything to fear," the American said. "I guess maybe I'm just too young right now."

She may be too young to beat one of the top players right now, but there isn't that much of a difference in sheer talent between her and the best in the game.

"That's how you win Wimbledon, playing like that," said her coach, Rick Macci.

Sanchez Vicario certainly was impressed, if not stunned.

"It's a little bit soon to say if she's going to start winning Grand Slams or not." said Macci. "Definitely she's a big girl, she can serve well, she can stay back. She has a long body and can stretch and hit the ball back very well."

The shift in the match came in the fifth game of the second set when Williams was serving with a 3-1 lead. A long rally at 0-30 took the wind out of Williams and she went on to drop her service on errors. It was the start of an 11-game run by Sanchez Vicario, the beginning of the first loss by Williams in any tournament ever, going back to the juniors. But it took no luster off her first set and the promise she showed.