OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla., Feb. 22 -- Venus Williams returns to the site of her first professional title as the top seed at the $180,000 IGA Superthrift Tennis Classic. Williams won the first of her three career titles here, defeating South Africa's Joannette Kruger in straight sets last year. A back injury will keep Kruger out this time around. Williams is coming off a loss to Jana Novotna in Sunday's final of the Faber Grand Prix in Germany. It was the first final of the year for Williams, 18. But she has reached at least the quarterfinals in all three tournaments in which she has appeared this season, a feat she achieved 14 times in 16 chances in 1998. Along with second-seeded Russian Anna Kournikova, Williams has a first-round bye. But Williams will have to win this year's tournament without the presence of her younger sister, Serena, who is playing in the more lucrative Open Gaz de France in Paris. The sister duo won the doubles championship here last year. Kournikova, at 17 the youngest player in the draw, is playing her fourth tournament of 1999 and has a 6-3 match record. Her best finish was a quarterfinal appearance in the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo, where she lost to Monica Seles. She is still looking for her first title. Third seed Amanda Coetzer of South Africa is coming off her best performance of the season. She topped Lindsay Davenport in the quarterfinals and Seles in the semifinals in Tokyo before losing to Hingis.
The diminutive Coetzer should be well-rested after taking two weeks off. She plays Japanese qualifer Nana Miyagi on Tuesday night. A pair of seeds were ousted Monday as sixth seed Amy Frazier of the United States was bounced by countrywoman Jane Chi, 3-6, 7-6 (9-7), 7-5. Another American, Alexandra Stevenson, upended No. 7 Mariann de Swardt of South Africa, 7-5, 7-6 (7-5). On Tuesday, fourth seed Lisa Raymond of the United States takes on countrywoman Lilia Osterloh, fifth-seeded Chanda Rubin battles fellow American Samantha Smith, and No. 8 Tara Snyder of the United States takes on Zimbabwe's Cara Black. First prize is $33,000.