With the mystery surrounding her sister's withdrawal from Wimbledon still billowing in the air at the All England club, Venus Williams represented her family well with a 6-1, 7-5 first-round win over Miriam Oremans of the Netherlands.

Serena Williams withdrew from Wimbledon five days before the tournament started, saying she had a case of the flu. Other players have battled more severe injuries and illnesses and still competed, raising questions here as to whether there is another reason behind Serena's absence.

In the past, the pair's father, Richard Williams, has expressed displeasure with the idea of the sisters playing each other, especially in the Grand Slams. On the other hand, he seemed pleased when the sisters played against each other in the final at Key Biscayne this year.

"You don't withdraw on a Thursday when you may not have to play until Tuesday or Wednesday of the next week," Martina Navratilova said during her commentary for HBO today. "Either Serena had another injury or didn't want to play against her sister, Venus, for whatever reason. I just wish they would tell the truth, because flu is not the truth. She may be a little sick, but not that sick."

Billie Jean King agreed, saying: "I think it's a family thing. There is a dilemma there. They are not sure how they want to handle it when they find out they may play early in a tournament."

Venus and Serena were on course to meet in the fourth round here, but Venus maintained today that it was an illness that kept Serena home.

"Of course she wanted to play," Venus said. "She's sick. I guess it's the flu. It would be the flu."

Sampras Six Shooting

After being somewhat lost in the hype that has swirled around Andre Agassi's win at the French Open, defending champion Pete Sampras made his presence felt at Wimbledon today by opening the tournament with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 win over Australia's Scott Draper.

Sampras controlled the match from the start, making some circus shots along with his usual arsenal of solid strokes. He is trying to claim his sixth Wimbledon title and his 12th Grand Slam, which would tie Roy Emerson's all-time record.

"There haven't been many guys who have won six times here, and that's my goal, but there's a lot of work ahead of me," Sampras said. "I can't complain about the way things went today. As far as it being your first match out, you feel a little bit vulnerable and get the early-round jitters. But once I got into the match, I felt like I was back home on that court. I couldn't ask for a better start."

CAPTION: Pete Sampras has his eye on the ball in first-round win against Scott Draper, and also his eye on the prize -- a sixth title at Wimbledon. Story, Page D5.