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Williams sisters still a tough act to beat

SAY it quietly but Venus Williams is just one year short of her 30th birthday, a genuine golden oldie in an era where the top women players routinely peak quickly before fading into an early retirement.

The American, like her younger sister Serena, has never followed the conventional path, however.

Now, 12 years after first bounding into Wimbledon's All England Club adorned with braids, jangly beads and a dazzling smile, Venus is still creating the same buzz as she goes for a sixth women's singles title.

With more than US$22 million in the bank from prize money alone and 41 career titles the number three seed has no need to chase ranking points.

What ignites the spark these days are the big stages, with Wimbledon and all it's traditional magic still proving an irresistible pull for one of the game's most enduring talents.

Unlike number two seed Serena, Venus does not transmit an intimidating aura. She can be dreamy and tranquil off court, but once she sets foot on Centre Court this serene athlete transforms into an unstoppable force of nature.

Venus retained her Wimbledon singles title last year when she stormed through the draw without dropping a set before beating Serena 7-5 6-4 in a high-quality clash of the siblings that finally produced a real match.

If the 29-year-old, a keen historian of the game, is to hold the Venus Rosewater Dish aloft for a sixth time, level with Billie Jean King and just three short of Martina Navratilova's record, it is a good bet she will have to beat her sister again.

"I think on the women's side it is a trio," Navratilova said this week when asked her opinion on who would lift the title.

"The Williams sisters and Svetlana Kuznetsova who just won the French Open. You still have to go with the Williams sisters. They have seven titles between them on the grass (at Wimbledon) and they will be hard to beat."

Fifth-seeded Kuznetsova, who beat world number one and fellow Russian Dinara Safina to win the French Open final this month, certainly looks the biggest threat other than the Williams sisters.


She packs a powerful punch on serve and some big baseline weapons, although the fact that the Russian has never been beyond the last eight at Wimbledon is evidence that she has never felt totally comfortable on the grass.

Safina is seeded number one but losing the Australian and French Open finals this year will have left some emotional scars that a visit to her least profitable slam is unlikely to heal.

Also in the Russian ranks are Olympic champion and number four seed Elena Dementieva, who reached the semi-finals last year, and former world number one Maria Sharapova.

Sharapova, one of the few women on tour who walk on court against either Williams sister without an inferiority complex, will also be lurking dangerously after tumbling down the rankings during a long layoff with a shoulder injury.

The 2004 Wimbledon champion crashed out in the second round last year when she was clearly struggling for fitness but knows what it takes to win a grand slam and her flat, power game is ideally suited to the lush lawns in southwest London.

With Serbian former world number ones Jelena Jankovic, seeded sixth, and Anna Ivanovic (13th) struggling for form, the list of likely women's winners is not a long one this year.

It could be the ideal chance for an outsider like Australia's 18th seed Samantha Stosur to emerge from the pack.

The 25-year-old has all the tools to excel on grass and reached the women's and mixed doubles finals last year at Wimbledon. With the benefit of being seeded, the surprise French Open semi-finalist will be one to watch.

When the screaming starts on Monday, however, Venus and Serena will again look set to stamp their authority all over this green corner of London.


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