Sisters are simply awesome
TENNIS/French Open: It has become traditional for all four women's quarter-finals to be played back-to-back on the Court Suzanne-Lenglen at Roland Garros, in Paris, its graceful curves and intimate atmosphere providing the perfect setting for a prolonged afternoon's demonstration of the game's gentler arts. And then along came the Williams, an everyday story of Amazons.
Until yesterday both Venus and Serena had failed to get beyond the last eight at the French Open, Venus losing quarter-finals in 1998 and 2000, and Serena losing last year. But it was only a matter of time before they began to assert themselves on European clay, and yesterday was the day.
Serena crushed France's Mary Pierce, the champion two years ago, 6-1, 6-1 shortly after her older sister had done a similar demolition job on fellow American, Monica Seles, 6-4, 6-3.
It was not tennis as Lenglen would have known it, but the great entertainer would surely have admired their style.
Neither Pierce nor Seles are the type of player to be truly intimidated, for they have weapons of their own, and a physical presence, but neither stood much of a chance on this occasion.
The sisters, as a combined force, were simply awesome and awe inspiring.
In tomorrow's semi-finals Serena will play Jennifer Capriati, the champion, while Venus takes on the inexperienced Argentinian Clarisa Fernandez who might be advised to buy some body armour.
It was far from the most perfect of Parisian afternoons, and a sharp crack of thunder after four games of the Venus-Seles match signalled a sharp downpour with the players scuttling off court for around half an hour.
The pattern had already been set, with Williams breaking Seles' second service game with something approaching insolence.
It has been Serena who has caught the eye with her dresses in Paris this year, Venus sticking to plain white - or as plain as any Williams dress ever is. More importantly, both have been totally and implacably focused, as if they arrived in France intent on proving a considerable point.
In Australia this year, Serena pulled out with injury, while Venus was surprisingly defeated in the quarter-finals by Seles. Prior to that, of course, there had been the first all-Williams final at the US Open, won under the Flushing Meadows floodlights by Venus.
Yesterday's wins set up a real possibility for another family final show, with Capriati, who beat Serena in last year's quarter-finals here, seemingly the one person likely to prevent it.
After the rain delay Seles, the winner of the French Open from 1990-92, did her level best to prevent the inevitable. Venus' first serve was just a little off key, and in the seventh game Seles murdered a couple of second serves for a break.
There was no change in Venus' expression whatsoever, or when Seles held for 4-4. She simply oozed extra determination, hit her groundstrokes even nearer the baseline, and clumped down an 112 m.p.h. ace.
Seles, like a venerable oak in a storm, was in trouble. A double fault and Venus sensed falling branches; a backhand long and the first set was over.
Seles plucked at the strings of her racket, blinked, and settled herself for the next instalment of the gale.
Astonishingly, in the context of the rest of the match, Williams lost her opening service game of the second set to love.
"Come on, Monica," the crowd screamed, their response to her always a little warmer and more enthusiastic than towards Venus. She would dearly loved to have responded with something positive, but immediately lost her own serve without gaining a single point. And that was pretty much that.
"I struggled with my game, things were always just a bit off. My timing was off from the first game to the last. I pressed too much and missed a couple of balls at key times," said Seles.
She found herself wavering, unsure whether to press or not.
Pierce, who entered the French open courtesy of a wild card, her ranking having dropped to number 131 after a series of injuries, was 4-0 down against Serena before she had time to fidget.
By the latter stages of the second set she had stopped even trying to reach some of Williams' groundstrokes.
"I don't think they should play all the women's quarters on the one court," said Pierce. As contrary Mary as ever
In the men's competition, Spain's Albert Costa reached the first Grand Slam semi-final of his career with a 7-5, 3-6, 6-7 (3/7), 6-4, 6-0 victory over Argentina's Guillermo Canas after a marathon, three hour and 53 minute centre court battle.
Costa, seeded 20, now faces either Andrei Pavel of Romania or fellow Spaniard Alex Corretja for a place in the final.
They were locked in another titanic duel which was halted by bad light with Corretja, the 18th seed and last year's runner-up, leading the 22nd seeded Pavel 7-6 (7/5) 7-5, 4-5 after over three hours of action.
They will have to finish proceedings today and will share top billing with the remaining two quarter-final clashes between former champion Andre Agassi, seeded four, who faces Spain's Juan Carlos Ferrero, the 11th seed, and the match between second seeded Russian Marat Safin and France's 10th seed Sebastien Grosjean.
Costa clinched his third career win against the 15th seeded Canas - the most recent of which came just five weeks ago when he won a three-set duel in the semi-finals in Barcelona.
But he had to battle hard coming back from a two sets to one deficit and 2-4 down in the fourth to win the next 10 games and snatch the match. The 26-year-old had come into Roland Garros having not won a title for three years - 65 tournaments ago.
QUARTER-FINALS: Clarisa Fernandez (Arg) bt Paola Suarez (Arg) 2-6 7-6 (7-5) 6-1; (3) Serena Williams (USA) bt Mary Pierce (Fra) 6-1 6-1; (2) Venus Williams (USA) bt (6) Monica Seles (USA) 6-4 6-3; (1) Jennifer Capriati (USA) bt (7) Jelena Dokic (Yug) 6-4 4-6 6-1
S Williams v J Capriati, V Williams v C Fernandez
QUARTER-FINALS: (20) Albert Costa (Spa) bt (15); Guillermo Canas (Arg) 7-5 3-6 6-7 (3-7) 6-4 6-0.
THIRD ROUND: Rita Grande (Ita) and Patty Schnyder (Swi) bt Maja Matevzic (Slo) and Dragana Zaric (Yug) 6-3 6-3.
QUARTER-FINALS: (2) Mark Knowles (Bah) and Daniel Nestor (Can) bt Wayne Arthurs (Aus) and Paul Hanley (Aus) 7-6 (7-1) 6-2; Paul Haarhuis (Ned) and Yevgeny Kafelnikov (Rus) bt (6) Jonas Bjorkman (Swe) and Todd Woodbridge (Aus) 1-6 7-6 (8-6) 8-; (14) Tomas Cibulec (Cze) and Leander Paes (Ind) bt (5) Bob Brian (USA) and Michael Bryan (USA) 3-6 7-6 (8-6) 6-4.
QUARTER-FINALS: (1) Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario (Spa) and Jared Palmer (USA) bt Roberta Vinci (Ita) and Pavel Vizner (Cze) 6-2 6-1; Elena Bovina (Rus) and Mark Knowles (Bah) bt (6) Daniela Hantuchova (Svk) and Kevin Ullyett (Zim) 5-7 7-6 (7-5) 6-3.
TODAY'S ORDER OF PLAY
(play starts at 1100 BST)
CENTRE COURT: 11-JCFerrero (Spa) v 4-A Agassi (US); 10-S Grosjean (Fra) v 2-M Safin (Rus); 6-S Testud (Fra)/RVinci (Ita) v 2-VR Pascual (Spa)/P Suarez (Arg).