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Williams sisters always make things interesting

In the always-eventful world of the Williams women, things change quickly.

A week ago, Serena Williams lost the WTA Tour final in Paris while bothered by a ligament in her right knee. It put in question her participation in this past week's event in Hanover, Germany.

It seemed sure there would be one Williams in Hanover because Serena's big sister Venus was entered.

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Yesterday, Serena won the tournament. Venus had hit nary a ball.

The top-seeded Serena blew past surprise finalist Denisa Chladova of the Czech Republic 6-1, 6-1 after edging France's Amèlie Mauresmo 6-2, 6-7 (4-7), 7-6 (7-3) in a two-hour 32-minute semi-final on Saturday.

Last Tuesday, Venus blew off a bunch of American and Canadian reporters invited to be on a conference call with her. At the appointed hour, a tour spokeswoman came on the line and announced, "Venus decided she didn't want to take part in the call. She's really disappointed about having to pull out of Hanover and she's at home [Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.]getting treatment for [tendinitis in]both wrists. She wants to focus on her recovery."

Venus Williams, the defending champion, has withdrawn from this week's event in Oklahoma City, Okla.

The Williams girls aren't slated to play the same tournament until the Ericsson Open (formerly The Lipton) in Miami the week of March 20.

On March 6, at the North Ranch Country Club in Westlake Village, Calif., Serena and Venus are supposed to be two of 35 captains of five-player teams at Pete Sampras's golf tournament to raise money for the Tim (his late coach) and Tom Gullikson Foundation for brain cancer care. Other captains include actors Matt Damon and Joe Pesci, Wayne Gretzky, comedian Dennis Miller and Jim Courier.

Monica Seles, out for the past several months due to a foot injury, was a last-minute fill-in for Venus in Oklahoma City.

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Another marquee player returning to action after a long absence is Patrick Rafter. He will play next week's event in Delray Beach, Fla., his first singles since the U.S. Open and since having rotator-cuff surgery on Oct. 24.

"Every now and then I feel a bit of a pinch on the sliced backhand," Rafter said. "My No. 1 priority now is my health. I'm not putting any expectations on this year."

Rafter's Australian compatriot, Mark Philippoussis, after playing three events in a row -- the Australian Open, Davis Cup in Switzerland and the ATP Tour event in San Jose, Calif. -- had to default in Memphis last week. The top seed's knee was inflamed, the same one that needed cartilage surgery after Wimbledon last year.

Swede Magnus Larsson won in Memphis yesterday, beating Zimbabwe's Byron Black 6-2, 1-6, 6-3.

In the doubles, Montreal's Sébastien Lareau notched the 15th title of his career, combining with American Justin Gimelstob to beat veteran Americans Jim Grabb and Richey Reneberg 6-2, 6-4.

"We played really well," Lareau said. "We won in Washington [last August]and now here in our only two times together. We're a pretty good team."

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After playing three singles events in Europe, Lareau will next play doubles with Gimelstob at the Ericsson Open.

Long term, injured Daniel Nestor is still his 2000 partner. "I hope I'll play with Daniel at the French Open [in late May]" Lareau said. "If sooner, so much the better."

Cédric Pioline nipped Tim Henman 6-7 (3-7), 6-4, 7-6 (7-4) to triumph at the Rotterdam tour stop, a day after Henman downed top seed Yevgeny Kafelnikov 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 and declared, "My play was the best it has ever been."

This week, Henman and British compatriot Greg Rusedski will play the Axa Cup in their hometown of London. Rusedski, following Dec. 22 right-foot surgery to have bone spurs shaved off and a cyst removed, returned to the tour in Rotterdam last week.

Should Rusedski and Henman win their first two matches at the indoor hard-court event, they would meet in the quarter-finals.

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