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U.S. Has a Falling-Out in France

Venus Williams, who'd reached four straight Grand Slam finals, loses to Russian teenager; Capriati, Davenport also ousted at French Open.

June 02, 2003|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

PARIS -- The sisters won't meet in the final.

Third-seeded Venus Williams was stunned Sunday by 18-year-old Russian Vera Zvonareva, 2-6, 6-2, 6-4, in the fourth round of the French Open. For the first time since the 2002 Australian Open, Venus and Serena Williams won't face each other in the last match of a Grand Slam tournament.

As Serena watched grimly, big sister Venus lost her way, lost her confidence, lost her range with her forehand and her belief in her backhand, had a fluttery racket hand on her serve and had dead feet when it was time to run.

The last of Venus' 75 unforced errors came on match point, a lackadaisical backhand that went wide. She gave a gracious smile to Zvonareva, grabbed her bags and rackets and walked off Center Court.

Revered French television broadcaster Nelson Montfort, who interviews all the winners and losers on the main court, reached out his microphone to talk to Venus. She just kept walking. The crowd booed. Venus didn't notice.

"I hope at least the crowd had some entertainment," Venus said afterward. "Even if it wasn't the best match I've ever played."

Besides her 75 unforced errors, Venus served 12 double faults as she played with little emotion.

When it was mentioned to Venus that she seemed less fiery and more lethargic than in the past, she paused and said, "This could be true."

And when she was asked who she thought might play her sister in the finals, Venus said, "It's not exactly my concern."

Serena does still have a chance to win her fifth consecutive major tournament.

On a day of upsets, the top-seeded woman won her 32nd straight Grand Slam match, 7-5, 6-3, over 16th-seeded Ai Sugiyama of Japan. But even Serena struggled. She was down, 2-0 and 4-2, in the first set.

"I was just a little off," Serena said. "No need to worry."

Another young Russian, 20-year-old Nadia Petrova, outslugged seventh-seeded Jennifer Capriati, winning, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3.

And sixth-seeded Lindsay Davenport of Laguna Beach retired in the second set of her match against 31-year-old Conchita Martinez because of an inflamed nerve in a toe on her left foot.

Davenport had been trailing, 6-4, 2-0, but she said that even had she been leading, she could not have continued.

"There was no way," Davenport said, "even if I had been able to get up a lucky break or something, that I could have continued."

Other favored winners struggled. Eighth-seeded Chanda Rubin wasted three match points in one game on her serve, but beat Hungary's Petra Mandula, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5.

Second-seeded Kim Clijsters, mentioned by many as the favorite to win her first Grand Slam title, was blitzed, 6-0, in the first set by veteran Magdalena Maleeva before recovering to win, 0-6, 6-2, 6-1, and fellow Belgian and fourth-seeded Justine Henin-Hardenne, playing on her 21st birthday, worked hard to beat 19th-seeded Patty Schynder of Switzerland, 6-3, 2-6, 6-2.

The day's most impressive winner was crowd favorite and fifth-seeded Amelie Mauresmo of France, who eliminated Magui Serna of Spain, 6-1, 6-2.

Mauresmo, who has given Serena Williams one of her two losses this year, will get a chance to make it two in a row in Tuesday's quarterfinals.

As Venus has surrendered her No. 1 ranking and her place as Grand Slam champion to her sister, and as she has taken more time off from tournament play to tend to her design business in Florida, questions have been whispered about her motivation. Yet, until Sunday, Venus had showed up at the Slams, able to beat everybody but her sister.

Her preparation for the French Open had been slowed after she pulled a stomach muscle a month ago.

"I don't think I had the kind of preparation I wanted," she said, "and I felt I had to try to compensate in other areas. Normally I could be playing freely and swinging freely and just being completely ready."

Zvonareva, who trains in College Park, Md., was a qualifier here last year and lost to Serena in three sets in the fourth round.

Even when she seemed overmatched in the first set, Zvonareva said, "I was always believing I could do this, but only if I would play my best tennis. I think I did it."

At first, Zvonareva said, she was astounded by Williams' serve. "When you go to the court, she serve just like a man. But you just have to forget about this and try to play your best game."

Capriati seemed to have grabbed control of her match against Petrova when she went up, 2-0, in the third set. But in a 7-5, 6-3 loss to Capriati three weeks ago in Rome, Petrova gained a sense she could hit with her. She also came up with a strategy.

Petrova came to the net 25 times and won 11 points there. It might not seem like a lot, but it kept Capriati off balance.

"Coming in was very important," said Petrova, 20, "because it helped me to keep the points a little bit shorter. From the baseline you really have to be super fit to overrun Jennifer."

"This is the best I've seen her play," Capriati said of the 76th-ranked Petrova. "Everything was just going her way."

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