For Pete sakes, Big Wdoes serve purpose

Jun 17, 2003 7:40 AM

Wimbledon, the ultimate serving contest in pro tennis begins Monday at the All-England Club without Pete Sampras.

That doesn’t taste too great but, may not necessary be less filling.

Lleyton Hewitt, the defending champion, is top-seeded and the 3-1 betting favorite, according to the Las Vegas Sports Consultants. Hewitt should be primed to defend his title after being eliminated early at the French Open.

Serena Williams opened as the 3-5 favorite at LVSC to defend her women’s singles title at the sport’s most coveted event. Her sister Venus, is second choice at 7-2, followed by the Belgian duo of Kim Clijsters (5-1) and reigning French Open champ Justine Henin-Hardenne (6-1).

Serena lost to Henin-Hardenne in the French semifinals, but the Wimbledon grass courts are much better suited to her serve and volley game than was the thick French clay.

The Williams sisters could be in the same half of the draw, which means a possible matchup in the semifinals. They have met in four of the last five Grand Slam finals, with Serena winning each matchup on her way to becoming the No. 1-ranked women’s player.

There are probably just three other players capable of winning the Big W on the women’s side ”” Jennifer Capriati (10-1), Lindsay Davenport (15-1) and Amelie Mauresmo (15-1). All three possess big serve and power games that could threaten the Williams sisters.

Henin-Hardenne, who beat Clijsters in the French final, has had more success on clay than grass. Clijsters lost to Serena Williams in the Australian Open final this year.

Andre Agassi, at 7-2, is second choice and the sentimental favorite at Wimbledon now that Sampras has basically retired. The men’s side is more wide open without Sampras, with a number of big servers capable of winning.

The top candidates are Andy Roddick (5-1) and Roger Federer (6-1). Both Roddick and Federer have been clocked at 149 mph on the serve. Roddick beat Agassi for the first time at the Stella Artois warmup grass event in London. Federer has long been an underachiever in tennis majors.

Picks: Hewitt, Serena.