Round of 16 a league of nations

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:09 AM ET

The round of 16 at the Rogers Cup underlined the changing face of tennis.

Yesterday's draw began with three Russians, two Ukrainians, two from France, including a Muslim, plus one Israeli, Australian, Czech, Belgian, Serbian, Pole, Serena Williams representing the U.S. and North America, and Jie Zhing, the first Chinese to make it four rounds into a Grand Slam event.

It's a far cry from when Tracy Austin played in the early 1980s and the women's game was a smaller universe.

"The Olympics is one reason we see so many Russians," said Austin, who is doing commentary here for TSN this week. "The Olympic sports they focused on before were ice skating and gymnastics. It's the amount of prize money and more television and internet (coverage). I hardly saw any tennis on TV as a kid. Now, it's an international feed.

"And when you see people make $5 million or $6 million a year, people are enticed by that. My generation didn't start to play tennis for the end result of money. Now, people see Maria Sharapova win Wimbledon at 17 and make $20 million off the court and parents say: 'Let's start our kids in tennis'. Richard Williams said he saw someone get a cheque on TV and he started Venus and Serena in tennis."

Service with a smile

That green blur fans have trouble tracking this week at the Rexall Centre is Samantha Stosur's laser serve.

But her opponents, and sometimes even the 5-foot-7 Australian herself, can't follow it, either. Stosur's first serve sometimes is erratic, but has been clocked at 199 kilometres an hour here -- just eight clicks behind the best that Venus Williams managed last year -- and her second, or kick serve, is one of the nastiest in the business.

Stosur, a former No. 1 doubles player with American Lisa Raymond and now deep into doubles here with Aussie comrade Rennae Stubbs, could meet Williams in tomorrow's singles semifinal. A coach taught her the powerful kick at age 12.

"I played a lot of hand tennis around the house and my mom and dad weren't too happy about that," a laughing Stosur said yesterday.

"But my brothers and I would play (actual) tennis outside the house where we didn't break too many things."


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