King and Queen


They held the first woman’s tennis event since 2000 at Madison Square Garden on March 2.

Fittingly called the BNP Paribas Showdown for the Billie Jean King Cup, the extravaganza — the first women’s tennis action at the world’s most famous arena since the WTA season-ender in 2000 — saluted the legend for her role as a pioneer with the racket sport in particular and distaff athletics in general.

Built around the ceremony, the Williams sisters — Venus beat Jelena Jankovic and Serena eliminated Ana Ivanovic — took out the Serbian pretenders and eye candy in one-setters sans ad scoring, before squaring off against each other.

Spraying balls around and sporting a balky knee, Venus wound up on the wrong end of a nine-deuce affair on her serve at 4-4 in the first set. The second concluded quickly at 6-3.

In the booth, King exchanged words with John McEnroe and Mary Carillo, as HBO also marked its return to tennis since ending a quarter-century Wimbledon relationship in 1999.

The trio talked about the old days, breaking out some footage of not-so-vintage King efforts at MSG to boot, and the recent debacle in Dubai, where Tennis Channel pulled its coverage when Israeli Shahar Peer was denied a visa over safety issues.

And King talked again about how Serena had the talent, if not the commitment, to have eclipsed the 24 and 22 Grand Slam titles held by Margaret Court and Steffi Graf, respectively.

Well at age 27 and with seasons and Slams lost to indifference, injuries, the pursuit of fashion and acting extracurriculars and grief over the death of a sister, that’s not going to happen.

What could, the troika in the booth argued, was Serena and/or Rafa Nadal, both of whom won Down Under, grabbing the Grand Slam this year.

The toughest surface for Serena, the red clay at Roland Garros, lies directly ahead. But Serena’s won in Paris before. If she were to earn that victory — remember the women’s game premier clay-courter JustineHenin retired last year — it would leave her one victory away from attaining a second Serena Slam (she currently has the 2008 U.S. Open in her purse and has the 2002 French, Wimbledon and U.S. Open and 2003 Australian trophies on her mantle).

Standing in her way at Wimbledon, would presumably be Big Sis, the two-time defending champion and five-time overall winner of the Grass Slam.

A triumph in the London suburb would leave Serena en route to Flushing Meadows — and Tennis Channel, ESPN2 and CBS awash in Nielsen dreams — on the brink of sharing Court’s Grand Slam court in 1970 and Graf’s grandeur in 1988. Although the latter wouldn’t be golden, like Steffi’s and her medal from the Seoul Games.

Still the feat, elevating her count to 13 Slams, would immortalize Serena’s majesty.