V. Williams dances on to semis

It takes 65 minutes to top Clijsters

next Open foe: Capriati

U. S. Open

September 06, 2001|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - Venus Williams swirls down the stairs in a ball gown in her latest tennis shoe commercial. But the display of grace and beauty has nothing on the tennis court, where Williams has grown up over the past five years.

Yesterday, the defending U.S. Open champion was a study in poise as she almost casually crushed Kim Clijsters, 6-3, 6-1, in 65 minutes.

"I've watched her and I knew she would hit the ball hard and deep," said Clijsters, who is seeded No. 5, just one spot below Williams in the Open draw. "You expect every ball to come hard, deep and flat. You don't expect the high bounce or the short ball or to have to come in.

"This is the first time I've played her and it is one thing to know what she does and another to be standing there in front of the ball."

The victory moved Williams into tomorrow's semifinals, where she will play No. 2 Jennifer Capriati, who advanced last night with a forceful 6-3, 6-4 victory over No. 8 Amelie Mauresmo.

"I know everyone wanted to see the next match," said Capriati, acknowledging the men's match between No. 2 Andre Agassi and No. 10 Pete Sampras that followed her on to Arthur Ashe Stadium court. "I was just trying to make it as fast as I could."

For Williams, the match with Capriati, who is returning to the semifinals here for the first time in 10 years, will be one in which she will see her opponent as the crowd favorite.

"I just think in general the fans have always loved her from the very beginning, you know," said Williams, who has not lost to Capriati in three previous meetings. "From the time she hit her first ball. I remember. I was like a baby, but I was following it, too, when she hit her first ball.

"Everyone has been watching her and following her story. They feel like they watched her grow up. Maybe that's what it is. So she has a lot of fans and a strong fan base. They really come out and root for her and want her to win."

The winner of that semifinal will meet the survivor of the semifinal between No. 1 Martina Hingis and No. 10 Serena Williams in the Open final Saturday night, when, for the first time, it will be played in prime time on CBS-TV at 8 p.m.

In this, her fifth year here, Venus Williams has made the semifinals for the fifth straight time. She wasn't completely happy with her performance yesterday, pointing to her 43 unforced errors.

But those errors of getting broken in the first set didn't disturb the serene image she is portraying both in that shoe commercial and on the court.

As fans watched Capriati grow up, they have also watched Williams mature.

"When I first started playing, I was a beginner," she said of her evolution over the past five years. "Everything was exciting. Things are still exciting - even more exciting now because I'm winning. But, back then, I played a few good matches. Burn out. Fell by the wayside. I was doing things for the first time, stepping up to the occasion.

"Nowadays, I expect to do these things. I expect myself to hit those shots. If I don't then that's a surprise. So, maybe that's why I'm more calm now. If I win a big point, I've expected to do this. That's what I expect of myself.

"So that's the difference."

She could be tense, trying to defend this Open title. Already this year she has successfully defended her Wimbledon crown. The drama should be growing, with Capriati waiting in her next match and either Hingis or Serena to be faced in the final.

But that's not the way Venus Williams looks at this tournament or even the way she looked at Wimbledon.

"I wasn't trying to defend Wimbledon," she said. "I was trying to win Wimbledon. For me, it's a totally different thing. I'm not trying to defend here - I'm trying to win. So it's a great big difference. I don't have any pressure to defend because I'm here to try to take the title home."

And she has ideas about what she has to do to do that: Follow her father's advice, "It always works best when I listen to and do what he says," and practice what she preaches to her sister Serena.

They were watching a match here last week and Serena said Venus told her, "Champions don't get nervous in tough situations." Venus laughed at that.

"We talk a lot," she said. "Did I say that? Well, I don't know. I don't really remember what I said. But, I guess I did tell her that champions will hit the ball over the net and not into the net. If you hit in the net, there's just no chance at all. The opportunity is finished. If you get it over, it might drop in."

Yesterday, against Venus, Clijsters found she was so caught up in trying to keep Williams deep that her problem was keeping balls from flying long. She also found that even with second-serve opportunities on William's serve, that she couldn't take advantage of them.

"It's hard because she hits the ball so deep, so it's very hard for you to keep the ball deep, as well," Clijsters said. "As soon as you like hit the ball a little bit short, she just finishes off the point. So it's very hard. I was up like a few times, 30-love on my own service games, love-30 on her service games, I just couldn't finish off the game. ... I couldn't do much about the way she played today."

So far, no one has been able to do much about the way Venus Williams has played here in the past two years.


Men's singles fourth round

Lleyton Hewitt (4) def. Tommy Haas (16), 3-6, 7-6 (2), 6-4, 6-2. Quarterfinals Marat Safin (3) def. Mariano Zabaleta, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2.

Women's singles quarterfinals

Venus Williams (4) def. Kim Clijsters (5), 6-3, 6-1. Jennifer Capriati (2) def. Amelie Mauresmo (8), 6-3, 6-4.

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