Venus' quick play has even ump stumped

Posted: Wednesday, July 03, 2002

WIMBLEDON, England -- Venus Williams raced in behind a stinging approach shot, all 6-foot-1 of her poised at the net.

Her opponent barely got to the ball and spun a stroke wide, giving Williams a break point during their Wimbledon quarterfinal on a rainy, windy Tuesday.

''Game, Miss Williams,'' the chair umpire said.

Well, not quite -- that was the proper call a point later, when Williams planted a forehand winner right on the baseline.

It's tough to keep track of the score when the top-seeded Williams is at her best.

The two-time defending champion beat 48th-ranked Russian Elena Likhovtseva 6-2, 6-0 in just 47 minutes, taking her total court time to little more than 4 1/2 hours in five matches.

While she overwhelmed yet another unheralded opponent for a 19th straight victory at the All England Club, 2001 runner-up Justine Henin overcame Monica Seles for the first time in five tries, 7-5, 7-6 (4). Williams and Henin will meet in a semifinal.

The other semifinal's participants will be decided Wednesday. Venus' sister, French Open champion Serena, will play No. 11 Daniela Hantuchova in one quarterfinal, while Jennifer Capriati faces No. 9 Amelie Mauresmo in another.

No. 3 Capriati advanced to the final eight when her rain- and darkness-delayed fourth-round match against Eleni Daniilidou was finally completed Tuesday. Capriati won 6-1, 3-6, 6-1.

The match, called Monday at a set apiece, resumed just before 6 p.m. after a series of rain delays and was moved from Court 1 to Court 18 to ensure it could be completed.

Play was stopped at 7 p.m., leaving a men's match unfinished. Richard Krajicek, the last Wimbledon champion left in the tournament, and Mark Philippoussis split the first four sets -- all tiebreakers -- of a fourth-round match. They'll resume Wednesday.

The winner faces No. 27 Xavier Malisse, who completed his 3-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over No. 23 Greg Rusedski.

That fourth-round match was halted Monday after the fourth set, and Malisse wrapped things up by breaking the Canadian-turned-Briton in the seventh game of the final set.

Williams faced just two break points against Likhovtseva, who's never taken a set off her in eight meetings. She erased one with a 112 mph service winner.

Otherwise, Williams wasn't challenged much at all, reeling off the last 10 games of the match and dropping just seven points in the entire second set.

Williams volleyed more than she had since the tournament began, winning the point on 16 of 20 trips to the net -- including 10-for-10 in the second set.

She's not ready to serve-and-volley, mind you, but she's feeling more comfortable striding forward.

''With any Grand Slam, you have to play aggressively. You have to really step up and take it to your opponent,'' said Williams, who's won four of the last eight majors. ''You can't just sit back and wait and hope they miss, because I tried that and it just didn't work.''

She simply pounds any short shot by an opponent, any ball not delivered to a corner or carrying some real oomph.

Williams' first real test of the fortnight -- and her first match against a player ranked higher than 35th -- will come against No. 6 Henin, who took her to three sets in last year's title match.

''She didn't play top players in this tournament. So maybe I have a little advantage on this part,'' said Henin, who eliminated No. 12 Elena Dementieva and No. 4 Seles. ''The key is going to be (if I play) like today: I went to the net, I was really aggressive, I wasn't afraid, I wasn't nervous.''

Henin's sleek backhand was at its best for most of the match, which was twice interrupted by rain.

Seles won all four of their past meetings, but they never had played on grass, where Henin clearly is at her best -- and Seles at her worst.

Wimbledon is the only Grand Slam event Seles hasn't won (she has nine major titles), and she's only been past the quarterfinals once -- losing to Steffi Graf in the 1992 final.

The subject of steroids has hung over Wimbledon, and Capriati and Williams objected Tuesday to the WTA Tour's plan to start no-notice, out-of-competition tests for banned substances later this year.

''I think that's a bit of an invasion,'' Capriati said, adding that she doesn't think any players use steroids.

Williams doesn't oppose out-of-competition testing in general, but is against no-notice testing.

''I don't think that's a good idea,'' she said. ''I think there has to at least be a notice normally. I wouldn't let anyone in my house if I'm not expecting them. Showing up at the door -- you kidding?''

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