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Serena wins as WTA back in Garden

SERENA Williams beat her older sister Venus 6-4, 6-3 to win the Billie Jean King Cup exhibition on Monday, marking the return of women's tennis to Madison Square Garden after a nine-year absence.

Australian Open champion Serena, who defeated 2008 French Open champion Ana Ivanovic of Serbia 6-3 in her one-set semifinal, collected US$400,000 in the first women's matches at the Garden since the 2000 WTA Championships.

Venus, winner of her last two tournaments in Dubai and Acapulco, settled for US$300,000. The reigning Wimbledon champion beat world No. 3 Jelena Jankovic of Serbia 6-4 in her first match.

The Serbs got US$250,000 each in the US$1.2 million event.

"Venus and I are so excited to be playing here," Serena said after an arduous final, during which she slipped over while chasing a baseline retrieval and later crashed onto the blue court when trying to reach a backhand volley.

"It was really good, really intense," the 27-year-old world No. 1 said.

Venus, who leads the sisters' WTA tournament head-to-head series 10-9, said: "I tried but Serena was too good."

The first set turned on a marathon, with a tense ninth game that reached deuce nine times. Serena finally cracked her older sister's serve on her eighth break point for a 5-4 lead before serving out the set.

Before the Williams match, an emotional ceremony was held to honor women's sports pioneer and equal rights campaigner King, keynoted by former President Bill Clinton.

"There were millions of young women all across America who couldn't play sports or pursue dreams that were thought to be the province of boys," Clinton said. "That was before Billie Jean King.

"She's done a lot not only to help women pursue their tennis dreams but other dreams well beyond athletics. She has probably done more than anyone in the world to empower women and to educate men."

King said: "The seeds for this historic event were planted almost 40 years ago when nine of us ... signed a US$1 contract to play a tournament in Houston. We had such big plans for our sport. We dreamed of playing in the world's greatest arenas, like Madison Square Garden."

The exhibition was also used to spark a youth registration push called "Tennis Night in America" with 750 facilities in all 50 states holding sign-up parties for youth tennis programs built around screenings of the Billie Jean King Cup event.

The founder of the Women's Tennis Association was still upset about the visa troubles at the Dubai tournament two weeks ago and adamant the tour won't return there next year if the problem recurs.

Shahar Peer of Israel was denied a visa to play in Dubai, with the government citing security concerns.

"Believe me, it will never happen again," King said. "We won't be there, I can guarantee you that. Our sport has to set an example of freedom and equality."


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