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Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Williams sisters: Another breakfast of champions?

Wimbledon Village, a pleasant walk from the All England Club when the weather is good, is a veritable treat.

A slew of restaurants, varying in cuisine (and price), rub shoulders with pubs, bakeries, antique shops, beauty salons and the like. Tennis fans living locally, temporarily or not, get a chance to spot the glitterati during Wimbledon's fortnight, too. Many of them reside in rented homes in or near the attractive enclave.

A few days ago, recently crowned French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova unassumingly strode down the so-called high street alone, while world No. 1 Dinara Safina munched on some Indian food. No creamy kormas in sight, we think.

Andy Roddick's coach, Larry Stefanki, habitually decked out in shorts, nipped out of an Italian restaurant with Roddick's longtime trainer, Doug Spreen. Spreen's cap was indeed on. One of the Bryan brothers went about his morning routine, seemingly just getting from Point A to Point B.

That feeling of home (read: not being shuttled around in cars to and from somewhat distant hotels) suits Venus Williams absolutely fine. No wonder she's won the title five times, two in a row.

Venus and sister Serena live in a place located a stone's throw from the tournament site, the kind of place they sneak in and out of during Wimbledon's infamous rain delays. (Mind you, there's no hint of any precipitation until Friday.) Last year, the siblings ate breakfast together the day they met in the finale, not changing anything up. Imagine Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer dining on muesli, side by side, before their tussles in Paris, London and Melbourne.

Venus Williams looked mostly at home on Centre Court (it is her backyard, after all) in her 2009 Wimbledon opener Tuesday against 19-year-old Stefanie Voegele. The slight Swiss, at a career-high No. 97 in the rankings, had the audacity to step well inside the baseline to await the defending champion's serves, which can be a little dangerous, even if it was on second deliveries.

Voegele timed shots pretty well early -- not much of a surprise, given that she lives in Biel, a manufacturing hotspot for watch companies including Rolex, about an hour's train ride from Federer's home town of Basel.

Williams saved two break points in the first game, then flashed her huge wingspan to fend off more trouble in the third, unleashing an impressive forehand pass. At one stage in the first set, she won 14 consecutive points. Voegele did break once in the second, although Williams advanced 6-3, 6-2 to boost her record to 63-9 on grass in the Open era, a winning percentage (87.5 percent) that can't even be matched by Federer's 82-12 record (87.2 percent).

"For me, [Wimbledon] has just been a place of great success -- so many wins here, you know, singles and doubles," Williams said postmatch. "So it's really just been a place of success and pure joy, I guess."

So, no sign of the 2007 foibles, in which Williams, coming back from injury, needed to rally from 3-1 in the third set to top the opinionated Alla Kudryavtseva.

Williams' serve, so effective on grass, maxed out at 123 mph Tuesday (6 mph off the tour record she set at last year's Wimbledon and in the 2007 U.S. Open) and averaged 110 mph. The latter was similar to Nadal's average during his 2008 epic at Wimbledon versus Federer.

Williams' path appears decidedly uncluttered. Her next opponent is world No. 73 Kateryna Bondarenko, one of the Bondarenko sisters from Ukraine. And as dangerous as the looming Samantha Stosur is, the Aussie has never gotten past the second round at Wimbledon. Jelena Jankovic, seeded sixth, is Williams' potential quarterfinal foe, and Safina lies in her half.

Wonder what Williams & Williams will be eating for breakfast as they prepare for another July 4 final. …