Wimbledon champion Venus Williams beat her little sister Serena 7-6 (7/5), 6-2 to reach the quarterfinals of the United States Open in New York on Sunday, but the sister act was hardly a show-stopper.
”I don’t think I played my best today at all,” said Serena, the Australian Open champion whose season has been disrupted by a left ankle and knee injury. ”And I don’t think Venus did either.”
It wasn’t the first time a Williams sisters match-up failed to bring out the best in either. Venus was more generous in her assessment, but said the unfamiliar feeling of playing Serena so early in a grand-slam tournament, when six of their previous eight major meetings were in finals, made it even harder.
”It’s equally difficult, as far as the challenge of playing Serena Williams,” Venus said. ”But it’s definitely more of a celebration to play in the finals. The fourth round, it’s just really strange.”
Both sisters displayed their full array of power ground strokes and booming serves, and along with them a litany of momentum-destroying errors.
Venus, who had looked the sharper of the two in the first three rounds, appeared well on the way to lifting the first set with a break in the seventh game, but double-faulted away a game to let Serena level at 5-5.
She had to fight off a set point to force the tiebreaker, but once the first set was gone Serena seemed to wilt.
”I definitely had my chances. I had a set point,” she said.
Venus next meets fourth-seeded Belgian Kim Clijsters, the hottest player on the WTA Tour.
She crushed Venezuelan Maria Vento-Kabchi 6-1, 6-0, with Vento-Kabchi likening the experience to being run over by a truck.
While the all-Williams clash didn’t live up to its top billing, Australian Lleyton Hewitt’s five-set win over US serve-and-volleyer Taylor Dent had plenty of drama.
Hewitt, the 2001 US Open champion and runner-up at the US Open last year to Roger Federer, beat Dent 6-3, 3-6, 6-7 (2/7), 6-2, 7-5.
Hewitt said his victory, while hard-fought, wasn’t the draining affair that many five-setters can be.
”For me, personally, it wasn’t that gruelling,” he said. ”Once I got into the fifth set, I would have been pretty disappointed if I lost it due to fitness.”
Instead of fitness, Hewitt said, his biggest problem was his serve. After breaking Dent to lead 4-3 in the fifth, Hewitt dropped his own serve with a game in which he failed to put a first serve in and double-faulted twice.
He broke Dent again to lead 6-5, but needed four match points — and had to save a break point — to finish it off.
”If I served better, it would have given me more opportunities to serve-volley, mix it up a lot more. But I just didn’t have a great rhythm out there serving today,” said Hewitt, who ironically served out the match with an ace.
Hewitt had appeared headed for an easy victory, racing to a 5-0 lead as Dent struggled to get going. But the American put together three straight games to bolster his confidence heading into the second set.
”He started serving a lot better,” Hewitt said. ”He made a lot more first serves towards the end of the first set and throughout the second set.”
Dent easily won a third-set tiebreaker, but was dominated in the fourth to set the stage for the decisive set.
Hewitt’s was one of three five-set tussles of the day.
The grittiest effort came from 33-year-old unseeded Italian Davide Sanguinetti, who needed four hours and 24 minutes to subdue Thailand’s Paradorn Srichaphan 6-3, 4-6, 6-7 (2/7), 7-6 (8/6), 7-6 (7/5).
The two players were staggering like boxers in the final round of a title bout as the match moved into the fifth-set tiebreaker.
Sanguinetti landed the final blow, grinding to a 6-4 lead and sealing the win at the net with an overhead smash on his second match point.
Sanginetti dropped to the ground in relief, then embraced his beaten foe at the net.
Also joining them in the last 16 was Fernando Verdasco of Spain, who outlasted the youngest player left in the competition, 18-year-old Serb Novak Djokovic, 6-1, 4-6, 6-7 (2/7), 6-4, 6-4.
World number one Federer made it through the first week without dropping a set, but he did have to rally to win a second-set tiebreaker to see off Belgian Olivier Rochus 6-3, 7-6 (8/6), 6-2.
Federer, who earned his third straight Wimbledon title in July and has surrendered just three matches all year, next faces German Nicolas Kiefer, a 6-4, 6-7 (5/7), 6-4, 6-1 winner over French qualifier Arnaud Clement.
A second women’s quarterfinal match-up was decided as top-seeded Russian Maria Sharapova dispatched rising Indian star Sania Mirza 6-2, 6-1 to set up a clash with ninth-seeded compatriot Nadia Petrova.
Petrova defeated Nicole Vaidisova of the Czech Republic 7-6, (7/4), 7-5.
In an entertaining clash of two 18-year-olds, Sharapova proved too strong for Mirza, winning in 59 minutes.
”I’m playing pretty well, but it is going to get tougher and tougher,” said Sharapova. — Sapa-AFP