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The Williams on the wane

London: Serena and Venus Williams have ruled the roost at Wimbledon over the last three years and completely dominated the Grand Slam circuit in the 12 months preceding this year’s French Open.

But Justine Henin-Hardenne’s victory over Serena in the semi-finals at Roland Garros two weeks ago brought an end to the world No. 1’s string of four consecutive Grand Slam titles — all of which involved beating Venus in the finals.

Henin-Hardenne’s win over Kim Clijsters in the Paris final also forced Venus Williams, winner of four Grand Slam titles, out of the top three for the first time in 18 months as the Belgian moved up to third in the rankings.

What happens at next week’s Wimbledon could determine whether the American sisters’ reign really has begun its demise or whether what happened at Roland Garros was nothing but a brief aberration.

Serena will be fired up to retain her Wimbledon crown and reassert her authority over the pretenders and would undoubtedly relish a return grudge match with Henin-Hardenne whom she could meet in the semi-finals.

The 21-year-old Serena was distraught after her 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 Roland Garros defeat, which was fought out in front of a tough partisan crowd who booed her throughout.

Serena had looked to have the match in her grasp at 4-2 and 30-0 in the third set when the umpire refused her the right to replay her first serve after the Belgian had raised her arm. Serena was angry that Henin-Hardenne declined to intervene and the tearful American later added to the controversy by accusing her opponent of “lying and fabricating”.

The highly-competitive Serena is not one to let the events in Paris affect her future performances, however. “It was a fight, that’s all,” she said after the defeat. “I am going to have to learn how to win. Got to keep smiling... I think if you keep smiling things work out.”

The much more restrained crowds at Wimbledon will certainly help her recovery.

Elder sister Venus is looking further and further removed from the former world No. 1 who two years ago won both Wimbledon and the US Open for the second time. Until last year the 23-year-old Venus was by far the more successful of the sisters.

Venus was the first of the two to win the grass court Grand Slam, beating Lindsay Davenport in 2000 before repeating the feat the following year by overcoming Henin in three sets, but her confidence appears to have crumbled while her younger sister’s has soared.

“I’ve won majors before, I’ve won tournaments before, I’ve come from down in matches before,” she said. “I have the experience to be successful. Now I just have to go on and do it.”

If the elder Williams is to challenge once more for a Grand Slam title, she may have to spend more time on the game rather than on her other interest, interior design.

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