- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 5, 2002

NEW YORK Club and grunt. Smash and giggle. Once, so very long ago, Monica Seles lorded over the women's game with a girlish grin and lead-pipe groundstrokes; in the here and now, the Williams sisters have refined the formula to become the tour's leading belles du bash.

Last night, the old met the new and judging by the results, evolution is a tough nut to crack.

Her strides longer, her serves bigger, her shots more paint-blisteringly powerful, second-seeded Venus Williams dispatched No.6 seed Seles 6-2, 6-3 in a U.S. Open quarterfinal match at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

With the victory, Williams advances to a semifinal meeting with 10th-seeded Amelie Mauresmo, a 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3 afternoon winner over No.3 seed Jennifer Capriati.

"I'd like to take this a step farther," Williams said moments after her 57-minute match. "[Mauresmo] is a very speedy player, very powerful. I need to be ready."

On the men's side of the quarterfinal draw, No.6 seed Andre Agassi rallied to top No.32 seed Max Mirnyi 6-7(5), 6-3, 7-5, 6-3. He next faces defending champion and top seed Lleyton Hewitt, who defeated No.20 seed Younes El Aynaoui 6-1, 7-6, 4-6, 6-2.

"[Hewitts] difficult for anybody," said the 32-year-old Agassi, who overcame 19 aces and 152 net rushes from Mirnyi, a Belorussian serve-and-volley specialist. "He makes you play a great match to beat him."

Four years ago, a 16-year-old Hewitt stunned Agassi to capture his first ATP title; he also beat Agassi in their most recent meeting, last month at a Masters Series tournament in Cincinnati.

"I remember he was wearing a safety pin in his shorts to keep them up," Agassi said of his first match against Hewitt. "I'm not kidding. I didn't believe that was my opponent."

Against Williams, Seles like William Jennings Bryan before her was simply on the wrong side of natural selection. After all, the two-time defending Open champion does everything Seles did in her Grand Slam-winning, No Excuses jeans-wearing prime. Only better. And the 28-year-old Seles is something less than the dominant ball-belter of a decade ago.

As such, the evening's outcome was predictable, if somewhat disappointing for a crowd that now embraces Seles as a sentimental favorite. Her face bathed in nonchalance, Williams unloaded forehand winners, jerked Seles along the back court with sideline-skimming shots and even tapped a soft drop volley.

And that was just in the first two games.

"She was just really better than I was at every department," said Seles, who has beaten Williams once in nine career meetings (at this year's Australian Open). "I had one break point. I've lost to her many times two and three. She's one of the toughest players for me to play."

For the evening, Williams hit 23 winners, five aces and broke Seles four times. In the first set, she lost a single point on serve; at one point, even father Richard Williams (clad, of course, in a T-shirt with his picture on it) looked slightly bored, preferring to roam the stands than watch the match.

The only real moment of suspense fleeting as it was came in the second set. After Williams broke Seles to take a 4-3 lead, Seles managed to earn a break point of her own.

Williams responded with a 112-mph ace, and following a Seles volley that died on the tape, she uncorked a service winner. Serving to stay in the match in the next game, Seles sent a forehand long on triple break point.

"There's a huge difference in their serve and athletic ability," said Seles, comparing the Williams sisters to past greats. "You had someone like [Martina] Navratilova and Steffi [Graf] who were superb athletes, but I think both Serena and Venus are even better."

By ousting Capriati, Mauresmo avenged a loss in last year's Open quarterfinals and continued her dogged pursuit of the world's No.3 ranking, her stated goal following a lopsided loss to Serena Williams in the Wimbledon semifinals.

"To me, it gets a little bit irritating," Mauresmo said of the Williams sisters' dominance, backing away from the verbal white flag she hoisted after a straight-set thumping by Serena at the All England Club. "Because you want to go out there and beat these guys."

Fortunately for Mauresmo who has topped Capriati three times in the last three months Jen-Jen looked less like the current Sisters Superior than their late-1990s incarnation: Shaky on serve, lacking a solid game plan, prone to errors at the least opportune moments.

With a chance to serve out the match at 6-5 in the second set, Capriati faltered, falling behind 40-15 before stumbling into a tiebreaker with an errant forehand.

"It's very frustrating because you try to do everything you can to just kind of relax out there," Capriati, who notched six double faults and 51 unforced errors. "But when I was serving for it, I just got really nervous and just really tight. I think it's probably just a lot of expectation, pressure I put on myself."

That pressure got the better of Capriati early in the third. Serving at 1-1, she smacked an overaggressive forehand just wide to give Mauresmo a break point; after saving the game with inspired bit of scrambling, she promptly yielded a second break point on a feeble double-fault.

Presented with a second chance, Mauresmo pounced, unloading a deep, corner-catching forehand that Capriati could only stab at.

"When you're down a set and 6-5 and she's serving, it's you know, you have to hang in there, even though you're thinking maybe it's the last game," Mauresmo said. "That's what I did, and it worked out pretty well."

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