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Venus follows Serena's lead

She also loses to a Serbian (Ivanovic) in straight sets, 7-6 (3), 6-4, in nearly the same time frame.

January 23, 2008|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Serbia 2, Williams family 0.

That was the one-sided scoreline in the span of about 24 hours at the Australian Open. Neither defending champion Serena Williams nor her older sister Venus was able to win a set in their quarterfinals against rapidly improving Serbian baseliners.

Fourth-seeded Ana Ivanovic defeated No. 8 Venus Williams, 7-6 (3), 6-4, today, echoing Serena's straight-sets loss to No. 3 Jelena Jankovic. The match time was nearly the same. Venus lasted seven more minutes in 1 hour 46 minutes, and like Serena the day before, Venus double-faulted five times.

Unlike Serena, though, Venus blew a 3-0 second-set lead. Ivanovic had never won a set against Williams in four previous meetings, but her fitness level and mobility have improved from her breakthrough 2007.

In the final game, Ivanovic was down 15-40 and fought off the two break points with a service winner and an ace. Ivanovic was asked what she was thinking in that last game.

"Yeah, it was a lot of pressure, but I tried not to think too much about the score," she said. "I tried to take my time and focus on my first serve because I realize it was very important for me to put the first serve in, put more pressure on her so she couldn't see my second serve."

Jankovic and Ivanovic reached the semifinals here for the first time and were joined by another newcomer, No. 9 Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia, who had little trouble beating Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, 6-2, 6-2, in an earlier quarterfinal. In the semifinals, Ivanovic plays Hantuchova and Jankovic faces Maria Sharapova.

So, was this development an announcement of the guard changing in women's tennis or another example of Venus and Serena Williams not being fully ready for the season?

Their mother and coach, Oracene Price, indicated the latter might be the case in an interview after Serena's loss. She said Serena was troubled physically. Venus' situation was more obvious as she had her left thigh heavily wrapped against Ivanovic.

"I don't think I ran as many balls down or played offensively on the defensive shot as well as I have in the past," said Venus Williams, who had 35 unforced errors, including 21 in the first set. "And I think those things definitely make a difference in the match."

Writing the sisters off, of course, is always a dangerous exercise. There are two reasons why that's the case -- just think about Venus Williams' serve on Wimbledon's grass and re-run footage of Serena Williams winning here last year despite being out of shape.

"Well, there's been a lot of talk every single year," Venus Williams said. "I think what's important to me is what goes on in my head. I've been a champion. I have full expectations and aspirations to continue to play high-quality tennis and to continue to be a champion.

"And I think Serena and I, we don't have anything to prove."

Then again, the new Serbian guard may not have the same regard for the office of No. 1, or former No. 1s, that is. With No. 1 Justine Henin getting dismantled by Sharapova in the quarterfinals, Ivanovic was asked about a changing of the guard.

"I think for everyone it's interesting to see new faces and fresh faces," she said. "Most of us are very young. Maria is 20, Jelena is 22, Daniela also is very young. So I think it's great for women's tennis. We all have a great opportunity here this year. It's just a matter of who can stay stronger and do it."

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lisa.dillman@latimes.com

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