It may have been only an exhibition, but Serena Williams dazzled a sold-out crowd at the Naples Bath & Tennis Club on Saturday and proved why she is the No. 1 women’s player in the world. With a combination of power, speed, finesse and desire, the 21-year-old — undefeated in 2003 — topped Monica Seles, 6-4, 6-4 in the JPMorgan Chase Tennis Challenge.
It may have been only an exhibition, but Serena Williams dazzled a sold-out crowd at the Naples Bath & Tennis Club on Saturday and proved why she is the No. 1 women’s player in the world.
With a combination of power, speed, finesse and desire, the 21-year-old — undefeated in 2003 — topped Monica Seles, 6-4, 6-4 in the JPMorgan Chase Tennis Challenge.
In the doubles portion of the charity exhibition, Williams also came up victorious and in the process, claiming family bragging rights.
She and Jana Novotna needed a tiebreak to defeat sister Venus Williams and Brenda Schultz- McCarthy, 8-7 (8-6).
The real winner on the day was the OWL Foundation, whose founder is Oracene Price, the Williamses’ mother. Thanks to the 3,860 spectators and the Gala featuring Roberta Flack, more than $150,000 was raised for the charity, surpassing last year’s total when the event was held in Delray Beach.
The foundation helps underprivileged children with academic problems by initiating after-school programs. Some of the proceeds will go to the Education Foundation of Collier County.
After besting Seles, Williams wanted to concentrate on the main objective.
“This one doesn’t count,” said Williams, who is 17-0 this season including three titles. “It’s for the kids, it’s for the foundation, it’s for learning.”
Actually, Williams, who is the reigning champion of all four Grand Slam events, looked lethargic at the start.
The turning point in the match came with the score tied at 3 in the first set. With an enough-is-enough mindset, Williams started matching Seles grunt-for-grunt.
With the first set tied at 4, Williams took control thanks to a couple of delicate drop shots. The 21-year-old was able to break Seles’ serve and go on to win the first set, 6-4.
“I had a few double faults there but I was able to bring it up and give a good match for the crowd,” said Williams.
The second set was much of the same, including Williams breaking Seles’ serve with the score tied at 4. Seles, who has nine career Grand Slam titles, did try to give Williams a workout, running her back and forth across the baseline. Williams, however, was relentless, showing off her athleticism, while giving the sun-baked crowd some thrilling saves.
After entertaining the fans on the court in the singles match, Seles, wanting to rest her injured foot, retired to the official’s chair.
Schultz-McCarthy, a seven-time tour winner, filled in as Venus Williams’ partner
Compared to a semi-serious singles match, the doubles competition was more like a night at The Improv, with Seles adding much of the levity from her post.
In the beginning, Venus Williams got a little greedy, and tried to steal a point at the net but instead nearly knocked the ball into the stands.
The uncharacteristic move caused both Williams to start laughing hysterically, causing the match to stop for few seconds.
Later, Venus shuffled her feet like a boxer.
She then proceeded to nail Novotna in the left arm with an up-close return.
“This was like a dream come true,” said Carlo Migliore of Naples. “To be able to see the best two players in the world. And actually the tennis was pretty good for an exhibition.”
The doubles match marked the first time that the sisters have been on the opposite side of the court in doubles competition.
“I usually know what she is thinking and can figure out what she is going to do in advance,” Venus Williams said. “It wasn’t like it was match point at a Grand Slam. It was fun.