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Serena out to drive away the tears at Wimbledon

They've turned the decibel level up ? and now they even earn more than the men. Women's tennis is on the march heading for the hallowed lawns of Wimbledon.

tennis Updated: Jun 20, 2003 19:07 IST
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse

They've turned the decibel level up - and nowadays they even earn more than the men.

Women's tennis is on the march heading for the hallowed lawns of Wimbledon.

What's more, it's no longer just power which is the name of the game.

The power merchants, in the muscular frames of Serena and Venus Williams, may finally be on the wane, if the French Open triumph of Justine Henin-Hardenne is anything of a yardstick.

Henin-Hardenne's bludgeoning of fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters came after she had whipped Serena in a three-set semi-final which left the outgoing champion in tears - though that was largely to do with a ferociously anti-American crowd.

With Venus, champion in 2000 and 2001 before Serena sent her packing in last year's final, struggling for form, Henin-Hardenne and Clijsters now head a raft of players looking to end the sisters dominance of the event.

Serena will have none of that and says her preparations have been gong well.

"The serve has been marvellous," she explained, reflecting that "I served so badly in Paris."

Although the men's champion will pocket 965,000 dollars to a trifling 899,000 for his female counterpart following a 9.5 percent nicrease in prizemoney over 2002, the women can be comfortable in the knowledge that in the sport as a whole they now lead the way.

To date, this year's top three tennis earners are all women.

Clijsters 1.7 million dollars leave her out in front with Henin-Hardenne in hit pursuit at 1.55 million.

Serena Williams has creamed off 1.5 million to push French Open men's champion Juan Carlos Ferrero into fourth spot overall by a handful of dollars.

Such statistics go some way to defusing the women's argument that they should receive equal remuneration at Wimbledon, whose chairman Tim Phillips refutes the idea.

"Women players like Serena can play more matches which last less time and collect more money," explains Phillips.

"We think we have got it just about right."

On the basis of last year's tournament the women earned 1,370 dollars per game played to 1,020 for the men.

Not that the men will be screaming in frustration.

They are content to leave the screaming to the "new Anna Kournikova", Maria Sharapova.

Sharapova is only just 16 but with Kournikova's career seemingly on the wane - she will miss Wimbledon with injury, having been a 16-year-old semi-finalist debutante in 1997 - her fellow Russian is now firmly in the spotlight and greedy tabloid lenses are already zooming in on the leggy blonde.

Her deep groundstrokes and bludgeoning backhand were too much for 15th-ranked compatriot Elena Dementieva on her run to the semis in Birmingham last week - and this only child from Siberia who started playing at four years of age has all the hallmarks of a future champion.

Her tough exterior has drawn comparisons with Monica Seles, who only missed the 1992 Grand Slam with defeat in the Wimbledon final that year.

Less fortunately for Sharapova is that she has something else in common with Yugoslav-born American Seles: She's a champion grunter, earning her the sobriquet Queen of Scream.

Nick Bollettieri, whose Bradenton, Florida academy Sharapova started attending aged just nine, is in no doubt she will make the grade and is on record as saying that "she will be one of the best in the world."

The object of all the attention is a keen student and carries on with her schoolwork through the internet insisting that academic success is as much a goal as tennis as "tennis is not and never will be the most important thing in my life."

Of her grunting she insists: "I won't allow it to affect me."

While Sharapova bids to emulate Kournikova's opening gambit of reaching the last four at the first attempt, Venus Williams will be out to show she is over the stomach muscle injury which hampered her at the French Open.

And Jennifer Capriati will likewise look to prove wrong those who believe her star is on the wane after her Australian Open triumphs of 2001 and 2002 and her French Open success in 2001.

Capriati went out last year in the quarters to Amelie Mauresmo of France.

Away from the Parisian crowd which often cuases her to freeze like a rabbit caught in the headlights Mauresmo herself has the power to have a say in where the title ends up.

"I'm trying not to put any pressure on myself this year," she said before Roland Garros, where Serena mauled her for the loss of just three games in the quarter-finals, Mauresmo having seen off the American in the Rome Masters semis.

History is not on Mauresmo's side, however.

Nathalie Tauziat was the last Frenchwoman to reach the final, going down to Jana Novotna in 1998.

The last French champion was none other than Suzanne Lenglen - the last of her six wins coming in 1925.

Even Britain's women have lifted the salad bowl six times since then - not that a home triumph looks remotely likely in the forseeable future.

First Published: Jun 20, 2003 10:12 IST