- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 31, 2008

— PARIS (AP) - With twilight descending, Venus Williams watched one final shot land out of reach, ending a bad day for her family - and for U.S. tennis.

Williams and her sister Serena were eliminated in third-round matches yesterday at the French Open. Serena lost to Katarina Srebotnik 6-4, 6-4, and more than eight hours later Venus was beaten by Flavia Pennetta 7-5, 6-3.

The double defeats meant that for the first time in the Open era, there will be no American woman in the fourth round at Roland Garros. The only U.S. player left is Robby Ginepri on the men’s side.

Winners of 14 Grand Slam titles, the Williams sisters lost to two tour veterans who have never reached a major quarterfinal.

For Serena, missed opportunities came in a flurry. She shanked overheads, hit wild volleys and squandered six break points.

But Venus never really gave herself a chance, losing serve six times and committing 29 unforced errors as Pennetta repeatedly bested her in long rallies.

To beat the older Williams, Pennetta had to beat darkness, and she closed out the victory with a forehand winner at 9:47 p.m. Seeded 26th, Pennetta advanced to the fourth round at Roland Garros for the first time.

Serena’s hasty exit matched her earliest in nine visits to Roland Garros and guarantees a first-time women’s champion. Williams, who won the French Open in 2002, was the lone former champion to enter the draw.

“I missed a lot of easy shots and a lot of key points that I felt like could have turned the match around,” a subdued Serena said. “I wasn’t able to capitalize.”

Three-time defending champion Rafael Nadal played for the fourth consecutive day in the rain-interrupted tournament and defeated Jarkko Nieminen 6-1, 6-3, 6-1 to reach the fourth round. Third-seeded Novak Djokovic beat Wayne Odesnik 7-5, 6-4, 6-2.

Top-seeded Maria Sharapova and No. 2 Ana Ivanovic advanced. In the completion of a second-round match halted in the second set Thursday because of darkness, Sharapova beat American Bethanie Mattek 6-2, 3-6, 6-2. Ivanovic reached the fourth round by beating 17-year-old Caroline Wozniacki 6-4, 6-1.

No. 3 Jelena Jankovic was leading No. 28 Dominika Cibulkova 7-5, 4-2 when darkness forced their match to be suspended.

Serena Williams, who played the day’s first match on Court Suzanne Lenglen, converted only one of seven break-point chances and was 0-for-5 in the second set. She repeatedly set up points but failed to finish them, losing 14 of 21 at the net.

“There are a lot of things I would try to do different, but you can’t rewind time,” said Williams, who also lost in the third round at Roland Garros in 1999.

Her mother and coach, Oracene Price, said Williams has “been in a funk. It’s not like her. She wasn’t herself.”

Srebotnik, seeded No. 27, earned the biggest victory of her career. She has only one win over a player ranked higher than the fifth-ranked Williams, beating No. 4 Amelie Mauresmo at Zurich in 2005.

Among those staying for the fourth round was No. 10 Patty Schnyder, who defeated Emilie Loit 7-6 (4), 5-7, 6-2. No. 11 Vera Zvonareva and No. 25 Nadia Petrova completed rain-interrupted, second-round wins.

On the men’s side, No. 10 Andy Murray was eliminated by No. 19 Nicolas Almagro 6-3, 6-7 (3), 6-3, 7-5, and No. 15 Mikhail Youzhny lost to No. 22 Fernando Verdasco 7-6 (5), 5-7, 7-5, 6-1.

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