PARIS -- A sizzling stroke went right to its appointed spot down the line, so clearly out of even a top player's range that the crowd began to clap and yell.
Suddenly, with the thuds of two ample strides, Venus Williams was right there, not just reaching the ball but also smacking a forehand so crisply that Monica Seles could only muster a backhand into the net.
Yet another apparent winner against a Williams became a point lost.
It's tennis' equivalent of a blocked layup leading to a fastbreak at the other end.
And it's a big part of why Venus and Serena Williams will be playing in their first French Open semifinals Thursday. Already known for powerful strokes and serves, what also sets Team Williams apart now is an ability to get to shots few others can.
''Without a doubt, they're the two best movers on the tour: Serena and Venus. That's obvious,'' Seles said after her quarterfinal loss to the elder sister. ''That's one of the biggest advantages they have, just their physical strength and height and power.''
Serena plays defending champion Jennifer Capriati, and Venus faces 87th-ranked Clarisa Fernandez, but not until after the completion of three men's quarterfinals -- one of which was held over from Tuesday, another from Wednesday.
Downpours resulted in 6 1/2 hours of delays and eventually washed out play Wednesday after a total of just 36 minutes in Andre Agassi's quarterfinal against 11th-seeded Juan Carlos Ferrero. The Spaniard leads 6-3, 1-0.
With rain falling, Agassi motioned to the chair umpire, who in turn called out tournament referee Stefan Fransson -- the only person who can put off a match until the next day. Fransson spoke with Agassi, then Ferrero, and -- at 7:04 p.m. -- motioned that play would stop. The scattered fans still at Center Court hooted and whistled.
Ferrero later indicated he wasn't consulted, saying, ''No one spoke to me.''
Grand Slam tournament rules do not specify under what conditions a match should be suspended, essentially leaving the decision to the tournament referee.
''I didn't feel that it was good conditions. As far as I could tell, they both agreed,'' Fransson said. ''I discussed it with both of them when I came out there.''
One more Williams victory apiece will set up another Sister Slam -- one family settling one of the sport's biggest prizes. It happened in September's U.S. Open, when Venus beat Serena in the first major final between siblings since Wimbledon in 1884.
As usually happens when the Williams sisters are on opposite side of a net, there was little stellar play in that New York final. An indication of how lackluster it was: Venus conjured up only seven winners, yet rolled to a 6-4, 6-2 victory.
''As long as we're on the court, we're extremely competitive,'' says Serena, who's 15 months younger. ''Ten years from now, this will all be over. We would have hopefully made history. I think we're making history now.''
First things first. While Venus (who's lost 24 games in five matches) faces an unseeded player who hadn't won a Grand Slam match before last week, Serena has to take on Capriati, winner of three of the past five majors (Venus took the other two).
Capriati certainly can slug the ball with anyone, and she hadn't dropped a set in Paris until a midmatch slump in her quarterfinal victory over Jelena Dokic.
Past performance offers little insight into who'll have the edge between Serena Williams and Capriati. Serena has won their last four meetings, including in the semifinals at last month's Italian Open en route to her first career clay title.
But Capriati is 2-0 in their Grand Slam encounters -- both 2001 quarterfinals, at Wimbledon and the French Open.
On court, everything about the Williams sisters is intimidating, right down to Serena's routine at a prematch coin toss.
Most players are blank canvases at the net, cradling a racket and standing still during the umpire's toss.
Serena whips her arm in a service motion over and over, akin to a prize fighter shadowboxing during the referee's prebout instructions at the center of the ring.
It's just a prelude to the all-over-the-court power game that both sisters bring, no matter the surface.
''The ball,'' Seles said, ''just comes so fast.''
Notes: Pavel went to Germany, where his wife gave birth to a boy. He was returning to Paris on Wednesday night. ... Fernandez is the first unseeded women's semifinalist since Capriati in 1990.
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