Williams sisters set for another showdown

Posted: Tuesday, March 29, 2005

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. — Venus and Serena Williams renew their sibling rivalry Tuesday night absent the fanfare that usually accompanies such showdowns.

They're not playing in a Grand Slam tournament, or even a final. They'll meet for the first time since July 2003 in the quarterfinals of the Nasdaq-100 Open, with Venus hoping to end a streak of six consecutive losses to her kid sister.

''Definitely not the round we'd like to meet in,'' Venus said. ''But in the end, it is what it is.''

The matchup was sealed late Monday when Serena extended her Key Biscayne winning streak to 21 matches by edging No. 15-seeded Elena Likhovtseva 6-4, 1-6, 6-4. Less than two hours earlier, Venus advanced by beating qualifier Catalina Castano 6-4, 2-6, 6-1.

With the stakes more modest than in the past, the hype will be, too. Only a handful of reporters were on hand to ask the sisters about their latest meeting.

''I guess the only setback with playing each other is that only one of us can win,'' Venus said. ''We both want each other to do so well that that's the only sad part, I think.''

The sisters started playing each other as inner-city grade-schoolers on the crumbling courts of Compton, Calif. This time they'll play 90 minutes down Interstate 95 from Palm Beach Gardens, where they live.

They split two previous meetings at Key Biscayne — in 1999 and 2002.

''It's pretty much all business,'' Serena said. ''We both want to win. This is our jobs. We both take it serious.''

The sisters' father and coach, Richard, watched impassively as Serena overcame 51 unforced errors and a 3-1 deficit in the final set against Likhovtseva. The Russian was pushed to match point when she blew a slam, and she then floated a backhand long.

Williams vs. Williams lacks the sizzle it once generated because their matches have been infrequent, one-sided and often sloppy. The most recent family face-off came at the Wimbledon final in 2003. Serena leads 7-5, with the past five victories coming in Grand Slam events.

Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova laughed when asked about the fan appeal.

''To tell you the truth, I could care less,'' she said. ''There are other things that I'm more worried about.''

Sharapova joined the sisters in the quarterfinals, as did Belgians Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters, who continued comebacks from injury.

In men's third-round play, top-ranked Roger Federer blew a lead but beat Mariano Zabaleta 6-2, 5-7, 6-3. Six-time champion Andre Agassi hit 12 aces and took barely an hour to oust Arnaud Clement 6-2, 6-4. Taylor Dent defeated a top-10 player for the fourth time this year by eliminating Guillermo Coria 6-3, 6-4.

Serena Williams, seeded third, is bidding for a fourth consecutive Key Biscayne title. She ended an 18-month Grand Slam drought in January at the Australian Open, where she won her seventh major title.

Many consider her the most formidable force on the women's tour — but not her sister.

''I couldn't possibly say that someone else is better than me when I'm competing,'' Venus said.

Venus, seeded eighth, is also a three-time Key Biscayne champion. She hasn't beaten Serena since winning her fourth and most recent major title at the 2001 U.S. Open.

Henin-Hardenne, seeded 19th and playing in her first tournament since the U.S. Open, advanced by beating No. 7 Alicia Molik 6-4, 2-6, 6-2. The three-time Grand Slam champion had been sidelined by a virus and knee injury.

''What I'm doing here this week is very good,'' Henin-Hardenne said. ''I found my game again.''

Clijsters, unseeded and coming back from wrist surgery, beat No. 5 Anastasia Myskina 6-3, 6-4. Clijsters has won 11 consecutive matches, including her first tournament title in 13 months earlier this month at Indian Wells.

''I definitely didn't expect to be playing so many matches on this trip'' to the United States, Clijsters said. ''So everything is a bonus.''

Joining French Open champion Myskina on the sideline was fellow Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova, the U.S. Open champion. She lost to 17-year-old Ana Ivanovic of Serbia-Montenegro, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5.

''This is quite a big result for me,'' said Ivanovic, who won her first WTA Tour title in January in Canberra, Australia. ''I think I'm pretty happy.''

The 6-foot Ivanovic next plays top-seeded Amelie Mauresmo, who beat No. 16 Karolina Sprem 6-1, 7-5. Sharapova eliminated No. 23 Shinobu Asagoe 6-1, 6-2 and will play Henin-Hardenne next.

No. 4 Elena Dementieva overcame nine double faults to rally past 17-year-old Tatiana Golovin 3-6, 6-2, 6-1.

Federer extended his winning streak to 18 matches and improved to 44-1 since the start of last year's U.S. Open, but he hardly looked invincible against the unseeded Zabaleta.

Serving for the match at 5-3 in the second set, Federer double-faulted on break point, then lost his next service game as well. After some shaky moments, he broke Zabaleta for a 5-3 lead in the final set and served out the match.

Federer said the wind picked up in the second set and might have affected him for a couple of games.

''You start to think about everything,'' Federer said. ''He's getting more pumped. The rallies are going his way. You're forcing some issues. To be on top in the end, I'm really, really satisfied.''

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