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Year in Review: 1997

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Re-rank the list of top sports stories of 1997

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Tiger Woods takes
golf world by storm

Pedro Martinez signs
record deal with Sox

Latrell Sprewell
assaults coach, gets ax

Rick Pitino becomes
Celtics coach, president

Bill Parcells quits after Patriots' banner year

Martina Hingis
rules women's tennis

Florida Marlins win World Series

Women's pro hoop
meets with success

A Patriots surprise:
Super Bowl XXXI berth

Wil Cordero charged
with assaulting wife


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Check out the top news stories of 1997

This could be the start of a beautiful foe-ship

Hingis wins, but Williams steals opening scene

By Bud Collins, Globe Correspondent 03/24/97

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- Venus and Martina.

Not Bogey and Claude Raines. Key Biscayne is a long way from Casablanca, but the reruns may also go on for years in an arena near you. After all, Venus Williams, the astounding diamond in the smooth confines of a tennis court, and Martina Hingis, the greenest ever No. 1 player, are mere munchkins of 16. And they took a maiden run at each other yesterday, a third-rounder of the Lipton Championships, that well could be remembered as a historic introduction.

If they'd passed out champagne to 15,430 expectant witnesses filling the house, no doubt somebody would have paraphrased Bogart's toast to Bergman as: ``Here's looking at you kids!''

They were well worth looking at, and ought to be for who knows how long. Even though Hingis, precise and thoughtful as a watchmaker from her Swiss turf, won, 6-4, 6-2, it was the dashing, explosive American kid, Williams, who seemed Alpine at 6 feet 2 inches, while she was cleaning petite Martina's clock.

With her ivory-beaded braids rattling ominously, making her seem a snow-capped mountain to Martina -- ``she's two heads, maybe three bigger than me!'' -- Williams fell on the 5-6 Australian Open champ. Within 11 minutes of the 69-minute struggle, Williams had busted Hingis's serve twice and led, 3-0.

The stadium was filled with Venusian fervor, and the afternoon's previous match -- the expunging of the 1992 champ, No. 3 Michael Chang, by No. 34 Sergi Bruguera, 6-4, 6-3 -- was forgotten. Could the No. 110 Williams topple another notable only 19 hours after she'd driven the re-grouping Jennifer Capriati, No. 28, from the oval, 7-6 (7-5), 3-6, 6-2?

No. Because, as Hingis, taking over the pinnacle, at least for now, from injured Steffi Graf, said, ``I won with my head'' -- as she so frequently does.

``But I wasn't ready for her aggressiveness. Venus, if she plays more . . . how good can she be?'' Hingis shook her head. ``So much power . . . she makes the court look so small. She is always there in one or two steps. It's weird playing somebody my same age, so good, so big. It makes me feel I never grew.

``She has more confidence than me,'' Hingis smiled after learning that Williams had predicted the eventual rivalry for No. 1 would match herself and her 15-year-old sister, Serena -- with little mention of Hingis (``good, but a weak serve.'')

No faintness to Williams's serve, ever. It roared as high as 114 miles per hour -- but didn't connect often enough, 52 percent -- and pinched her with six double faults, two in match game.

Hingis ``watched Venus play Jennifer and knew I couldn't match her power. But I used her power, and I found there was room to pass her when she was at the net.''

Nine minutes after dropping the first three games, Hingis was even. She ``wasn't worried, but had to make Venus make more mistakes than I was making.''

``I gave her errors [28-16] -- but she wouldn't give them back,'' said Williams. ``I expected more of myself, but myself wasn't there.''

Most ``myselfs'' aren't there either when Hingis is the foe. Unbeaten this year on a 23-match toot, Hingis gives variety and verve. She began to move Williams to uncomfortable places and show her different, discombobulating spins and angles, attacking the net when least expected. Despite losing serve for the third time in the set to 3-4, she was ready to roll through six straight games, nine of 10 as Williams's paucity of experience (11 pro tourneys) negated extraordinary athleticism, flair, and joy in competing.

While the congregation reveled in the fearless flamboyance of Williams (three months the elder), it was easy to overlook the fact that the harmless appearing Hingis (in only her 37th pro tournament, but with years more of junior competitive labor) is on a clear path to greatness. ``I wasn't going to lose to someone young as me and not yet as good,'' Hingis said. ``I have responsibility as No. 1.''

Williams didn't like losing, but, ``I'm over it. I move on. I say goodbye to that match,'' Like Scarlett's line from another movie classic: ``Tomorrow's another day.''


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