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THE U.S. OPEN

Serena's victory is a real crowd-pleaser

September 04, 2008|Chuck Culpepper | Special to the Times

NEW YORK -- The old notion of Williams-vs.-Williams tennis matches as tepid affairs of impaired quality seemed to grow thoroughly outdated Wednesday at just before 11 p.m. New York time when a packed crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium suddenly couldn't help itself.

Physically unable to remain seated after a 16-shot rally in the second-set tiebreaker that epitomized the frantic points of a rousing match, New York bolted to its feet for a long ovation of two young women it has known for a decade, but maybe never quite like this.

Even the oddity of Venus Williams converting zero of 10 set points simply piled more intrigue onto a match that ended with Serena Williams baffled at how she won their U.S. Open quarterfinal by a 7-6 (6), 7-6 (7) score, for turnabout from their Wimbledon final of July.

"I mean, I feel like I should have a trophy now," Serena said. "Unfortunately I don't, and I have to go to the next round," which would be a semifinal with the Russian comer Dinara Safina, ranked No. 7 and still torrid since May after her 6-2, 6-3 afternoon win over Flavia Pennetta of Italy.

In fact, Serena's lack of trophy did seem odd after a match with the distinct air of a final. In a fracas Serena ranked second among their 17 meetings behind a three-set, 2003 Australian Open final, Serena prevailed by adopting the role of escape artist.

Venus served for the first set at 5-4 and for the second set at 5-3. Venus led the first-set tiebreaker, 6-4, and the second-set tiebreaker, 6-3. Venus had three set points in the 5-3 game of the second set, one in the 6-5 game and four during the tiebreaker.

Often, she committed errors, but just as often, Serena proved impenetrable in her groundstrokes so as to wait out those errors. Facing those serial second points, Serena had the thought there absolutely would be a third set, so she'd probably have to change her dress. Serving at 40-love in the 5-3 game of the second set, Venus had the inkling those should've been match points.

"I'm a very good closer, so today was, you know, I've never had a match like this in my life," Venus said. "I guess there's always a first."

Still, when she finally hit a second straight forehand error long, challenged the call unsuccessfully and lost the match, she approached her sister with a smile -- "She's the only player whom I care about, like, what happens after, if I win or lose," Venus said -- and Serena approached Venus with just a bit of a frown. They shook hands, and the crowd, having seen a five-deuce game at 6-5 in the second set, plus that tiebreaker, plus late rallies of 13 shots, 16, 19 and 22, roared again.

"Because they're moved," said Isha Price, their sister. "And when you get a situation and in a situation where people are moved by what you do. . . . I think it was magnificent for both of them."

With their parents absent, and with Isha once looking tortured just watching, it began inauspiciously. They couldn't take the court until 90 minutes later than scheduled because No. 6 Andy Murray of Britain played a Hundred Years War of a quarterfinal with No. 17 Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina, Murray winning, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (1), 4-6, 7-5, to access his first semifinal of a Grand Slam event.

Once the Williamses got going, they got going slowly, but by the end of the first set, they had begun banging shots around as if kids in the yard only with 24,000 people looking on. Venus played some celestial stuff through the middle of the second set to arrange the chances she couldn't convert later on. Serena held onto herself and even blocked a stirring backhand volley to save one set point in the tiebreaker.

And while Venus did miss barely wide a fairly open forehand smash that would've closed the set, Serena won two of her mere two set points so her evening could end up just a jot better. "I definitely managed my emotions a lot better" than at Wimbledon, she said, and soon found herself saying also, "Believe me, I'm going to be No. 1 sooner or later."

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Featured matches

World rankings in parentheses:

* Novak Djokovic, Serbia (3), vs. Andy Roddick (8), quarterfinal, night session, second match, not before 5:15 p.m. PDT: Other than Djokovic saying he's hurt in so many places that we don't have the time to hear about all of them, and other than fourth-round opponent Tommy Robredo saying he thinks Djokovic over-dramatizes his injuries to stall, and other than Djokovic sliding from 2007 fan favorite to chiding the fans for supporting Robredo, and other than Roddick kidding of Djokovic's injuries, "Isn't it both of them? A back and a hip? And a cramp. Bird flu. Anthrax. SARS. Common cough and cold," and other than Roddick saying, "You know, he's either quick to call a trainer or he's the most courageous guy of all time," and other than Roddick calling himself an underdog while playing at home, and other than Djokovic saying of the crowd, "Maybe they don't like me anymore," well, there's really no intrigue here.

* Roger Federer, Switzerland (2), vs. Gilles Muller, Luxembourg (130), quarterfinal: In the first round of qualifying, Muller barely eluded 254th-ranked Lamine Ouahab of Algeria, 6-7 (9), 7-6 (6), 7-5, and has stormed through six matches since, including over players ranked No. 39, No. 18 and No. 5, twice rebounding from two sets behind. So Federer, asked what it's like to play somebody with nothing to lose, said, "It's been like this for 4 1/2 years," and clearly some snooty computer has ranked this Ouahab much too low.

-- Chuck Culpepper

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