- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 4, 2009

PARIS | Serena Williams, of all people, got a case of the jitters.

That was her explanation, anyway.

The 10-time Grand Slam champion kept finding herself in and out of trouble in the French Open quarterfinals Wednesday until she ran out of stamina and strokes in a 7-6 (3), 5-7, 7-5 loss to Svetlana Kuznetsova that ended Williams’ 18-match winning streak at major tournaments.

“I had an opportunity, and I got really tight, and I pretty much gave it to her,” said the second-seeded Williams, who blew a 3-1 lead in the third set. “It was like, ‘Here. Do you want to go to the semis? Because I don’t.’ She was like, ‘OK.’ ”

The seventh-seeded Kuznetsova’s semifinal opponent Thursday is No. 30 Samantha Stosur of Australia, who defeated Sorana Cirstea of Romania 6-1, 6-3. The other women’s semifinal is No. 1 Dinara Safina of Russia against No. 20 Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia.

If Stosur-Cirstea was as one-sided as could be, Kuznetsova-Williams was hypercompetitive and superbly played. Until, at least, Kuznetsova took eight of the last nine points, breaking Williams in the final game.

“Honestly, I think I lost because of me and not because of anything she did,” Williams said.

Williams denied she felt fatigued, blaming nerves instead.

How could that be?

“Maybe I put some expectations on myself that I didn’t put on myself initially,” she said.

Roger Federer spoke about dealing with nerves Wednesday, too, although his problems came before he began playing 11th-seeded Gael Monfils of France.

“We’re all nervous at this stage of the competition. I felt it. Yesterday I felt it, and I felt it again today in the warmup,” said Federer, who knows this might be his best chance to win the only Grand Slam tournament missing from his resume. “I was tired, I was nervous and I didn’t feel really good. Then once out on court, you know, I get my act together.”

There’s an understatement.

Federer beat Monfils 7-6 (6), 6-2, 6-4 to close in on completing a career Grand Slam and earning a 14th major title to tie Pete Sampras’ career record.

Next up for Federer is No. 5 Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina, who eliminated No. 16 Tommy Robredo in straight sets. Friday’s other men’s semifinal will be No. 23 Robin Soderling - the man who upset four-time defending champion Rafael Nadal in the fourth round - against No. 12 Fernando Gonzalez.

Federer is 26-1 against the other semifinalists, including 5-0 against del Potro.

“Doesn’t mean because I have a great record against all the players left in the draw that, you know, I’m going to win this, but I’ll definitely try everything I possibly can to do it,” Federer said.

He is into his 20th consecutive major semifinal, extending his own record; del Potro is in the first of his career.

“We all know how he plays, and we all know what he wants to achieve here now that Rafa is no longer here,” the 20-year-old del Potro said.

The women’s semifinalists might very well be relieved to know that 2002 French Open champion Williams is gone because she was by far the most accomplished of the remaining players.

Kuznetsova, the 2004 U.S. Open champion, is the only member of the remaining quartet to have won a major title. Neither Stosur nor Cibulkova has won a WTA tour singles title.

Still, Kuznetsova has something of a reputation as someone who is capable of folding at key moments of tense matches, including a loss to Williams at the Australian Open in January after serving for the match in the second set.

“Same scenario,” Kuznetsova said.

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