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Sister Slam, Part 6

Venus Williams winced with each serve and doubled over to clutch her side after stretching for shots.

She was in so much pain, she barely could lift her racket bag after the match.

Simply refusing to succumb to a strained muscle or Kim Clijsters' persistent strokes, Williams erased a big deficit and won 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 Thursday to set up a second straight Wimbledon final against her sister, Serena, the defending champion.

In Saturday's match (9 a.m., Ch. 8), they will be facing each other in a major final for the sixth time. The family will gain its fourth Wimbledon trophy in a row.

In the first semifinal, Serena turned a rematch against French Open champion Justine Henin-Hardenne into a mismatch, winning 6-3, 6-2.

Venus' fourth-round loss at Roland Garros marked her earliest exit from a major in two years, and the abdominal strain that hampered her there flared up during the third game against Clijsters.

The 2000-01 Wimbledon champion took a medical timeout and was seen a second time by the trainer. Then came an hour rain delay after the first set.

"The rain saved me," Venus said. "I couldn't calm myself down. I was just so worried about the injury. Serena came in and talked to me. I went out and talked to my mom and my other sisters.

"My mom said, "Just pray and calm yourself down. If you're going to play, play. If not, don't do it.' Finally, after about half an hour, I was able to come to terms with it."

She also got more help from the trainer, including a tight wrap on her midsection. Gasping for air and leaning on her racket like a cane between points, Venus twice fell behind by a break in the second set. But she broke back both times, whipping winners, and somehow reeled off 10 of the last 11 games to cap a dramatic victory.

"I'm really glad that the third set didn't go any further," fourth-seeded Venus said.

Venus won the 2001 U.S. Open final, the first between siblings at a major since 1884. But Serena won their next four, from last year's French Open through this year's Australian Open.

"I'm excited to be in the final again of a Grand Slam," said Serena, who will keep her No. 1 ranking. "I was able to realize at the French that you can't always make it to the final. So now that I'm back, it's definitely exciting. It's just another step, another day to keep fighting."

In the third game, Venus aggravated an abdominal strain while serving and started bending over or rubbing her stomach after points. She cringed after hitting an overhead in a game she lost to fall behind 5-4. It was a recurrence of the injury that forced her to quit during the final of a tournament in Poland two months ago and limited her French Open preparations.

"As a rule, I never play with pain. I generally retire immediately. I've never been taught to play with pain," Venus said. "I just felt this time _ I just wanted to win, basically."

After the rain, the players traded four straight breaks to 3-3 in the second set. Suddenly, Venus began to make a dent, holding for 4-3 and breaking to 5-3 by running to the doubles alley for a backhand retrieval that surprised Clijsters, who missed a forehand.

Venus gained her first lead of the match by breaking after trailing 40-15 in the final set's third game. On one particularly spectacular point, she stumbled but put her hand on the grass to stay upright, then raced for a backhand that Clijsters sent wide.

"Obviously, on adrenaline, you can do a lot of things. She hardly missed anything at the end," Clijsters said. "Against almost every other player, except probably Serena, a lot of my shots would have been winners."

Venus broke again to 4-1 with a volley winner, held for 5-1 with an ace at 118 mph and broke again to end it when Clijsters' forehand sailed wide.

So, will little sis take it easy on her Saturday? "This is the Wimbledon final," Venus said. "If I'm lame and injured, that's not her problem, really."

EQUAL PAY FOR WOMEN: Bra manufacturer Berlei, which sponsors Anna Kournikova, chipped in $66,800 to make the women's purse equal to the men's ($960,250). Of the four Grand Slams, Wimbledon and the French Open pay the women less.

"It means a lot to me and a lot to the players," five-time Wimbledon champion Billie Jean King said. "We want to get closer and closer to equality across the board, in every area of life, so that we can walk side by side with men."

SMALLER RACKETS: A group headed by former Wimbledon champions, including Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe, believes rackets should be smaller. An open letter to International Tennis Federation president Francesco Ricci Bitti signed by 34 former players and journalists said larger rackets made games "unbalanced and one-dimensional."

They said the more powerful, wide-bodied rackets made players reluctant to come to the net and encouraged baseline tennis. They suggested the racket width be reduced from the limit of 12.5 inches to 9 inches "perhaps in stages over four or five years.

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