NEW YORK -- World No. 1 Martina Hingis used her poise, consistency and sound strategy to eclipse Venus Williams, 6-0, 6-4, yesterday in a U.S. Open women's final that showcased the young, exciting talent in pro tennis.
For Williams, the first African-American in a U.S. Open women's final since Althea Gibson 39 years ago, her time on the court would be the best part of the afternoon.
After graciously telling the crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium that the Open "couldn't have a better champion," Williams headed for her post-match interview, where she ended her day being grilled about race.
Hingis, only 16, had just become the sixth women's player to win at least three Grand Slam tournaments in a single season, and she had made it look easy. The mistake-prone Williams made 38 unforced errors, and Hingis made her pay on almost every occasion.
Still, Williams, who will move from No. 66 to No. 25 when the rankings are released today, was smiling when she walked into the interview. The crowds here had strongly supported the 17-year-old who was lighting up Arthur Ashe Stadium. And she returned their warmth.
She said it made her feel good to be part of Ashe's message about inclusion in tennis, because "if someone wants to play the sport, they shouldn't be put out because of their race or religion or social status. That kind of discrimination isn't part of the American belief."
But race was part of the aftermath of Williams' semifinal match with Irina Spirlea on Friday.
Williams' father was quoted as saying that the bumping incident a changeover with Spirlea was racially motivated and that his daughter had experienced other racism on tour.
When Williams was asked about her father's take on the bumping, she said she had not read the papers. Asked later whether she had experienced racism, Williams again tried to avoid the issue.
"I don't think that's even part of it right now," she said. "I don't want to answer that question."
But Williams is not Steffi Graf, nor is she Monica Seles. When Graf's father was in prison in Germany, all she had to do was shake her head and wipe at a moist eye and the issue of tax evasion was dropped. When Seles returned to the tour and faced questions about the stabbing that had stopped her tennis career, or even this year, when the subject of her ill father came up, all that was necessary to stop a grilling was a wave of her hand and a pained look.
Yesterday, there were those who seemed unwilling to let up on this 17-year-old and so the next question came. Was she disagreeing with her father on the racism charge?
"I think with this moment in the first year in Arthur Ashe Stadium, it all represents everyone being together, everyone being having a chance to play," she said. "So I think this is definitely ruining the mood, these questions about racism."
"Your father didn't have to comment yesterday," said a reporter.
"You didn't have to bring it up," Williams said.
At that point, the interview was over.
She walked out. Hingis marched in. The mood changed. Hingis was all smiles.
"I didn't think it was easy," she said of her victory. "I just played very good tennis, especially in the first set. But she had a great performance in the matches before, especially that one against Irina, coming back from two match points down. That was a great effort for her.
"I thought, 'Well, maybe she might be a little bit tired.' But she was still running well at the baseline, and she started playing much better at the end. She just seemed pretty nervous and made a lot of mistakes. It was her first final."
But not even Hingis could escape without a question or two about Williams. Does she have a problem with Williams' attitude, which some other players apparently see as rude and anti-social?
"I think it's always hard when you're the newcomer on the tour," she said. "It wasn't very easy for me, too. The other players just look at you. They don't know what to expect from you. Everyone is talking about you. The media pay so much attention. If you don't bring the results, everyone is kind of not very happy because you haven't shown anything to the other players.
"I think her first statements, they weren't very nice. Because you know, she said, 'I'm the best player in the world.' But she has changed very much from the other tournaments. She has become a much nicer person on the tour."
Did Hingis have an opinion about the race issue? Was she excited to see a new, black face across the net? It was only then that Hingis seemed to realize where the questions had been heading.
"It's always good to have new faces out there," said Hingis, 16. "Especially in women's tennis, there are so many coming up. The thing is, it is very nice to watch a finals like Hingis-Williams -- but I don't care that much about who is on the other side, actually. I think it's very good if you have all the people, all the races, all the world playing tennis."
No. 13 seed Patrick Rafter beats Greg Rusedski, 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5, to win the U.S. Open men's title.3c
Pub Date: 9/08/97