V. Williams leaves field in golden wake


SYDNEY, Australia - The golden summer of Venus Williams rolled on today beneath a warm southern sun.

The American tennis star bounded onto a court adorned with five Olympic rings and defeated Elena Dementieva of Russia, 6-2, 6-4, to claim the gold medal at the 2000 Summer Olympics.

The win, her 32nd straight victory, brought Williams a step closer to completing a glittering run, as she continued to stamp her authority on the women's game.

"It's just one match at a time, but it's gotten crazy," Williams said of her winning streak.

With verve, style and huge serves, she won Wimbledon in July.

She claimed the U.S. Open in early September, displaying patience and toughness and coming back from near defeat to oust the game's No. 1 player, Martina Hingis.

Now, she is one victory away from sweeping the women's tennis gold medals at the Olympics, set to team with her sister, Serena, in the doubles final against Kristie Boogert and Miriam Oremans.

"I knew [this summer] would be a long road," Venus Williams said.

The women's singles final was hardly a riveting match. It felt more like an exhibition than a frenetic final, Venus Williams flattening yet one more overmatched opponent on a hard court.

At the end, she claimed victory - and a medal - with a smile, waving to the spectators and bowing. Then, she grabbed an American flag in her right hand, and held the racket in her left, as she walked around the court to cheers.

"It's one moment in time for me, my country, my family, my team," said Venus Williams, who wiped away a tear as the national anthem was played.

It was all a far cry from her joyous celebrations that marked her coming of age in the elite tennis events, the Grand Slams.

Still, it was nice to see a tennis player performing for her country, instead of exclusively for herself.

The sun was high, the sky was blue and the crowd was appreciative of almost every shot on a day that was so hot, players and fans were shielded with umbrellas.

Tucked at the end of Sydney Olympic Park, a few hundred yards from the field hockey stadium, the saucer-shaped tennis venue gives fans a terrific view of the players.

Whether the fans get value for money is another question, though.

Twelve years after pro tennis players first appeared at the Olympics, it's hard to get a grasp on whether they really belong. Some of them seem to treat the Olympics as if it's a winter tournament in February, showing up, going through the motions and moving on to the next city.

Others, though, take it very seriously. Few could dispute that Monica Seles and Jelena Dokic played hard in their bronze-medal match, with Seles winning, 6-1, 6-4, and Dokic reduced to a puddle of tears in front of her hometown crowd.

"I've never had a medal in my life, and I had to fight hard for it," Seles said.

She was back at the tennis venue today to watch the final, and then, to receive her bronze medal.

"In tennis, for me, Grand Slams are still much higher," said Seles, a naturalized American. "But this is such an honor to represent your country. It's one of the few times you get to do that."

Yet there is barely time on the tennis merry-go-round to actually stop and savor a victory, even if it is for an Olympic medal.

There is a relentless churning of events with Seles, who ended her news conference by ticking off her schedule: "I go to play in Tokyo," she said. "But Serena [Williams] and I play an exhibition match in Hong Kong in two days, and then I play another tournament in Tokyo."

Meanwhile, Venus Williams has done little but play tennis since arriving in Sydney. She sounded as if she was ready for a break.

Asked what she would do after the doubles final, she said, "I'm going home."

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