Serena tops Venus in King Cup final

NEW YORK -- Serena Williams looked up at the rafters after beating her older sister Venus Williams to win the Billie Jean King Cup. Following a short trip to her courtside chair, she walked to the center of the court, held her racquet up and waved to the crowd.

Yes, the world's No. 1 player enjoyed her first tennis tournament at Madison Square Garden.

Serena wore down Venus in a 6-4, 6-3 victory Monday night, wowing the fans with her impressive power as women's tennis returned to the Garden after a nine-year absence.

"Definitely winning in Madison Square Garden, also with Billie Jean and this Cup is just really fun and it being the first time is really cool," said Serena Williams, who took home $400,000 of the $1.2 million purse.

"I'm really excited about that opportunity. Hopefully it will continue to open more doors for women's sports and women's tennis."

The Williams sisters gave the crowd of 12,026 exactly what it wanted by advancing to the championship, but Venus was never the same after she was broken in a marathon game in the first set.

"The crowd was really nice, definitely," said Venus Williams, who won the Mexican Open on Saturday night for her second WTA Tour title in two weeks. "I thought they were rooting for me to get back in and take it to the third, which I couldn't quite do."

The Garden hosted the WTA season-ending championships every year but one from 1977-2000, but the marquee event hasn't been back since. After Roger Federer beat Pete Sampras in a riveting three-setter at MSG last year, four of the top seven women's players in the world agreed to stage their own exhibition at "the world's most famous arena."

Serena Williams shook off an early challenge from seventh-ranked Ana Ivanovic and won 6-3 in the second semifinal after Venus advanced with a 6-4 victory over Jelena Jankovic in the one-night exhibition.

The sisters were tied at 4 in the championship when they engaged in easily the longest game of the night. After nine deuces, Venus dumped a backhand into the net on Serena's eighth break point of the game. Serena then held to take the first set and opened the second with another break as a weary Venus struggled with her serve.

"I just would've loved to have held there," Venus said of the critical stretch in the first set. "That's tennis -- you can't get broke that much. Too many breaks today."

Before the final, former President Bill Clinton, figure skaters Sarah Hughes and Nancy Kerrigan and race car driver Janet Guthrie participated in a tribute to Billie Jean King, who founded the Women's Tennis Association in 1973.

"She has probably done more than any other woman in the world to empower women and educate men," Clinton said.

The Williams sisters were clearly the biggest attraction for the crowd, which braved a winter snowstorm to catch the stars before they come back to the area this summer for the U.S. Open. Many of the fans filed out after Serena won the first set of the championship.

The first semifinal featured solid serving and erratic groundstrokes. Venus Williams got the only break when the third-ranked Jankovic hit a backhand wide and won when the Serb belted a forehand long on match point after Williams failed to put away an overhead.

Serena Williams rallied from 15-40 down to hold serve in the third game of her semifinal, then broke Ivanovic to go up 3-1. Ivanovic earned two more break points in the seventh game but Williams rallied to take a 5-2 lead.

The Billie Jean King Cup was part of "Tennis Night in America," an effort by the U.S. Tennis Association to get youth registered for the sport. More than 750 tennis and community centers were signing up kids for spring and summer leagues.

"Billie Jean King has done so much for the game," Jankovic said. "She's really a true legend in the sport. I think this is a really great tribute to her."