WILLIAMS SISTERS DISCOVER MEN ARE BETTER PLAYERS
MELBOURNE -- Venus and Serena Williams discovered they're no match for the men on the ATP tennis tour, at least not yet.
In an impromptu 'Battle of the Sexes' at the Australian Open yesterday, first Serena, then Venus challenged No 203 Karsten Braasch to a set apiece, and he beat them both.
Serena fell 6-1, Venus 6-2. They played as intensely as they could, while Braasch performed with gentlemanly restraint.
"It was extremely hard," said the 16-year-old Serena. "I didn't know it would be that hard. I hit shots that would have been winners on the women's tour and he got to them easily."
That didn't stop her from boasting that "this time next year I'll beat him. I have to pump some weight . . . I have to work hard to be on the men's tour."
Venus, 17, wasn't about to concede too much either, especially since she broke Braasch's serve once.
"I can beat men in the 300s and up," she said. "He thought we couldn't get a point. He didn't think we could play. We showed him we could."
Asked if she might not want to take on players on the senior tour, or retired men as Billie-Jean King did against 1939 Wimbledon champion Bobby Riggs in their ballyhooed 'Battle of the Sexes' in 1973, Venus shook her beaded head.
"I'm going for the young guns," she said.
Braasch smiled at their claims.
"Against anyone in the top 500, no chance," Braasch said, "because I was playing like 600 today."
The sister act played Braasch on Court 12 in the boondocks of the Australian Open complex. A few hundred fans and players who wandered by witnessed the event along with a crowd of media. No umpire, no linesmen, no ball boys, no scoreboard. And no prize money or bets. Only pride was at stake.
It all started a few days ago when the Williams sisters wandered into the ATP tour office at the Australian Open and boldly claimed they could beat any of the men ranked 200 or above. The bespectacled Braasch, a German who has sunk in the rankings after reaching 38 in 1994, happened to be in the office and took up the challenge.
Venus was still in the tournament at the time so a match was set between Serena and Braasch for Sunday. Rain postponed that until yesterday and with the sun shining Serena and Braasch showed up ready to defend the honour of their sexes.
At least that's how Serena saw it. For Braasch, it was a joke. He never even considered the possibility he might be ridiculed by the other men players if he lost.
"Everyone knew that there's no chance for them," he said. "They were talking to me, that I should go out and beat them by as much as possible. They said make it 24 points and go off the court."
He played, he said, for fun, "because tennis doesn't have to be serious, especially when you're out of the tournament." Braasch lost last week in the singles and doubles.
When Riggs lost to King at the Houston Astrodome, there was a crowd of more than 30 000 -- the biggest in tennis history. That nationally televised exhibition, four months after Riggs' 'Mother's Day Massacre' of Margaret Court, did more to establish women's tennis than any other match or tournament.
The Williams sisters, in their way, are bringing new life to the women's tour, even if they couldn't beat Braasch. Venus reached the final of the US Open and the quarters here. Serena has beaten three top 10 players since turning pro a few months ago. Each has the personality and flash to make the sport more popular than ever.
Braasch, a left-handed junk ball expert with a convoluted service motion, won the first five games against Serena. He ran her dizzy all over the court, showing her a befuddling assortment of spins.
He could have hit harder if he wanted, taken her out of points sooner, but as her unofficial coach, Nick Bollettieri, noted at courtside, "He's being kind to her."
Venus, who had just changed into jeans after losing in the women's quarter-finals to Lindsay Davenport, showed up at Court 12 late and saw her sister getting trounced.
"I'd definitely take this guy on," she said. When Braasch held at love to 5-0, Venus' competitiveness got the better of her.
"Maybe I should go get dressed," she said to Bollettieri. "What do you think, Nick?"
"Go for it," he answered.
Venus raced across Melbourne Park, her multi-coloured beads flying among the surprised fans. She changed quickly and raced right back, arriving out of breath just as Serena won her only game when Braasch netted a backhand after a couple of deuces.
The small crowd roared for Serena, but Braasch closed out the set with an ace a few moments later.
As Serena and Braasch shook hands, Venus entered the court and issued her own challenge to Braasch.
Venus had as little success as Serena when the match got under way. She lost her first service game at love, managed only one point on Braasch's serve and dropped her next serve.
But after going down 4-0, Venus held serve at love as Braasch hit several errors.
Perhaps boredom was setting in because Braasch then lost his own serve to 4-2 when Venus cracked a sizzling forehand past him on her second break point.
Braasch wasn't about to let the set get away. He stepped up his pace a bit, overpowered Venus on her serve and closed out the match with an ace.
"I took at least 50 per cent off my serve," Braasch said.
"I came out with a few hard ones, but not too much because then it's not fun anymore and it was supposed to be fun." -- Sapa-AP