Serena Williams beat her older sister Venus 6-4, 6-3 to win the Billie Jean King Cup exhibition on Monday, marking the return of women's tennis to Madison Square Garden after a nine-year absence. Serena, the Australian Open champion who defeated the 2008 French Open champion Ana Ivanovic of Serbia 6-3 in her one-set semi-final, collected US$400,000 (Dh1.46m) in the first women's matches at the Garden since the 2000 WTA Championships.
Venus, the winner of her last two tournaments in Dubai and Acapulco, settled for $300,000. The reigning Wimbledon champion beat the world No 3 Jelena Jankovic of Serbia 6-4 in her first match. The Serbs got $250,000 each in the $1.2 million event. "Venus and I are so excited to be playing here," Serena said after an arduous final, during which she slipped over while chasing a baseline retrieval and later crashed onto the blue court when trying to reach a backhand volley.
"It was really good, really intense," the world No 1 said. Venus, who leads the sisters' WTA tournament head-to-head series 10-9, said: "I tried but Serena was too good." The first set turned on a marathon, with a tense ninth game that reached deuce nine times. Serena finally cracked her older sister's serve on her eighth break point for a 5-4 lead before serving out the set. Before the Williams match, an emotional ceremony was held to honour women's sports pioneer and equal rights campaigner King, keynoted by the former President Bill Clinton.
"There were millions of young women all across America who couldn't play sports or pursue dreams that were thought to be the province of boys," Clinton said. "That was before Billie Jean King. "She's done a lot not only to help women pursue their tennis dreams but other dreams well beyond athletics. She has probably done more than anyone in the world to empower women and to educate men." King said: "The seeds for this historic event were planted almost 40 years ago when nine of us... signed a $1 contract to play a tournament in Houston.
"We had such big plans for our sport. We dreamed of playing in the world's greatest arenas, like Madison Square Garden." The exhibition was also used to spark a youth registration push called "Tennis Night in America" with 750 facilities in all 50 states holding sign-up parties for youth tennis programs built around screenings of the Billie Jean King Cup event. Elsewhere, top-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland was bundled out in the first round of the Monterrey Open on Monday, losing 7-6, 4-6, 6-0 to China's Li Na. Li, ranked No 53 in the world, broke the 10th-ranked Radwanska six times, including three in the third set, before claiming the match in just over two hours.
Fourth-seeded Zheng Jie had a 6-3, 6-3 win over Urszula Radwanska, Agnieszka's younger sister. Seventh-seeded Gsela Dulko of Argentina advanced with a 6-4, 7-5 win over France's Nathalie Dechy, while the No 8 Maria Kirilenko of Russia earned her first win of the year by beating New Zealand's Marina Erakovic 6-4, 6-3. * With agencies