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FRENCH OPEN

Sister Act Given the Hook in Paris

Capriati defeats Serena Williams, then Myskina ousts Venus. Henman is a surprise semifinalist on clay.

June 02, 2004|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

PARIS — Whether it was the stunning departure of Serena and Venus Williams within half an hour of each other in the quarterfinals, or the sight of Englishman Tim Henman exhibiting the wryest of smiles upon reaching the semifinals, there was little doubt about the overriding theme Tuesday at Roland Garros:

Virtual unreality meets the French Open.

You wonder what the odds would have been of a final four not featuring either Williams sister, or of Henman's reaching that hallowed ground for the first time in Paris, where he became the first Englishman to do so since the Open era began in 1968.

It also was the first time that Serena and Venus Williams lost on the same day of a Grand Slam event -- or any other tournament. Seventh-seeded Jennifer Capriati eliminated No. 2 Serena, 6-3, 2-6, 6-3, and older sister Venus was gone less than 30 minutes later when sixth-seeded Anastasia Myskina of Russia defeated No. 4 Venus for the first time, 6-3, 6-4.

Also on a rainy afternoon of stop-start tennis, Gallic hearts were crushed -- again -- when local hope, third-seeded Amelie Mauresmo, succumbed to her yearly jitters. Ninth-seeded Elena Dementieva of Russia, who defeated Mauresmo, 6-4, 6-3, will play No. 14 Paola Suarez of Argentina in Thursday's semifinals.

Of the four winners, Suarez had the easiest route, taking advantage of the heavy conditions in beating 17-year-old Maria Sharapova of Russia, 6-1, 6-3.

It is only the second time in the Open era that none of the top five seeded women reached the semifinals, the other time being the 1978 Australian Open.

Presumably, the path should have been left open for the Williams sisters, but things have changed since they could treat tennis as if they were tourists, dropping in here and there and still winning Slams.

"I was an amateur today," Serena said.

The Williamses combined for 88 unforced errors, 43 for Venus and 45 for Serena, and they weren't even playing each other.

"I think when you start making errors, you start making your opponent think, 'OK, I've got a chance,' " said their mother and coach, Oracene Price. "When my girls don't do what they do, they can lose their confidence too. It goes both ways."

Despite her erratic performance, Serena was still in the match late in the third set, rallying from an early service break. But her first serve continued to let her down and she was rarely in a confident groove, getting broken at 30 in the eighth game of the third.

Capriati served for it at 5-3 and reached match point at 40-30. She appeared to have won and celebrated accordingly, thinking the long drought was over, recording her first win in a Slam against Serena since 2001 at Wimbledon.

But fate hit the replay button. Capriati's shot on the baseline had been called long. The chair umpire overruled and ordered the point replayed.

Capriati gathered herself, won the replayed point and celebrated again, bowing several times to the crowd.

"I'm just so happy and so relieved," she said. "I was like, 'Finally!' "

For a moment, she had thought it might be called deuce after her premature celebration.

"I was just so happy that we replayed the point, that I didn't lose the point," said Capriati, the 2001 champion here. "When he said, 'Do it over,' I was like, 'OK.' But the ball was in. And that was like a sign to me."

Capriati had a game plan, keeping the ball down the middle, taking away the angle from Serena and exploiting her fragile forehand side. She also had the mental edge of having beaten Serena in their most recent match, in the semifinals at the Italian Open in May.

Serena dealt with the day more emotionally than Venus, on and off the court, but did have enough moxie to crack a joke when asked if she was able to watch any of Venus' match.

"No. We might both be on the same flight tomorrow," said Serena, who had not played in a Slam since winning at Wimbledon last year, missing months of action because of knee surgery.

Venus, who had not lost a completed match on clay in 2004, hardly had the chance to find her footing against Myskina. She trailed, 0-4, and did not win her first game until 18 minutes into the match. In the first four games, she had 13 unforced errors, to five for Myskina.

One indication of her lack of court feel was at 3-3 in the second set. With Williams serving at 0-40, Myskina smacked a shot that appeared to be sailing out. Williams, though, chose to volley it from the baseline and knocked the ball long, leading to the decisive service break.

"I couldn't decide," Venus said. "So when in doubt, you have to hit it."

Now, Venus has gone almost three years without a Slam title, going back to Wimbledon 2001. The odd thing about her loss is that Myskina is hardly a clay-court expert. She had never gone past the second round in four previous trips to Paris.

"My dream was to win the first round here," Myskina said.

She is not the only one wildly exceeding expectations.

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