- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 2, 2003

WIMBLEDON, England — Jennifer Capriati spouted all the appropriate clichs. About playing the ball. Focusing on her game. Ignoring the player on the other side of the net.

Problem was, her well-meaning mush was no match for Serena Williams. Even on an off day.

Proving once again that when opponents plan, Serena laughs, Williams left Capriati’s good intentions in tatters, notching a sloppy 2-6, 6-2, 6-3 Wimbledon quarterfinal victory yesterday on Centre Court.

With the win, the top-seeded Williams advances to a much-anticipated semifinal showdown with Belgium’s Justine Henin-Hardenne, a 6-2, 6-2 winner over Russia’s Svetlana Kuznetsova.

“I’m going in with the mindset of, ‘I have an opportunity to get to the finals,’” said Williams, the defending Wimbledon champion. “That’s all I’m thinking about. What happens in Paris stays in Paris. That was a long time ago for me.”

Williams and Henin-Hardenne last met in the French Open final, where the diminutive Belgian conspired with a rude ‘n’ raucous Parisian crowd to snap Williams’ “Serena Slam” streak of four straight major titles.

“Serena is going to play a good match for sure, because she’s going to be very, very motivated,” said Henin-Hardenne, the No. 3 seed. “I’m pretty excited about that.”

In the other half of the women’s draw, two-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams outslugged Lindsay Davenport 6-2, 2-6, 6-1, earning a semifinal date with Belgium’s Kim Clijsters.

Clijsters, the No. 2 seed, stumbled early before dismissing Italy’s Silvia Farina Elia 5-7, 6-0, 6-1.

“My level of play is high enough to play well against any competitor,” said Venus, the No. 4 seed. “At this point, I’m not thinking about winning or losing. I’m just thinking about going out there and executing on my shots and in my game.”

With actor/chum Matthew Perry looking on from the friends box — no pun intended — No. 8 seed Capriati employed a similarly self-contained strategy.

Determined to prevent an eighth consecutive loss to Serena, she hustled to out-of-reach balls. Pummeled groundstrokes with controlled agression. Placed her oft-shaky first serve squarely inside the box.

Above all, Capriati waited for Serena to make mistakes — and early on, her free-swinging opponent was happy to oblige. Time and time again, a frustrated Serena launched shots into the tape and over the baseline, committing seven unforced errors in the first three games.

With a chance to break Capriati at the start of the match, Serena sent two baseline blasts wide, then flipped an ill-advised drop shot into the net. On set point in the first, she shanked another backhand wide, employing an uppercut swing more appropriate to the PGA Tour.

“I don’t think I really gave her the match,” Capriati said. “She had to step it up and elevate her game.”

Struggling to calibrate her strokes, Serena leaned on her serve, acing her way out of trouble in the manner of her favorite player, Pete Sampras. Facing a break point at 2-2 in the second, she pounded one wide to hold; energized, Serena went on to break Capriati twice and take the set.

Serena finished with seven aces — one at 115 mph — and won 75 percent of her first-serve points.

“No one else serves like that,” Capriati said. “That’s why she’s No. 1.”

The third was more of the same, as Serena snuffed two break opportunities with an ace down the middle and a service winner in the corner. Finding her range from the baseline, she broke Capriati with a deep forehand down the line.

After Capriati dumped a forehand volley into the net on match point, Serena squealed with delight, then let loose a sigh of relief.

“It was very tough,” Serena said. “I knew I was going to have a tough match playing against Jennifer.”

Against No. 5 seed Davenport, Venus didn’t have it any easier — even though she managed to take a short nap during a first-set rain delay.

In a close contest rife with baseline bludgeoning, Venus’ superior speed and reach won out. While she chased down potential winners and turned defense into offense — long her forte — Davenport appeared hampered by her injured left foot, unable to strike wide forehands with any conviction.

Leading 2-1 in the third set, Venus earned a break point with a wrong-footed forehand winner; two deuces and a thundering Davenport backhand later, she took the game when Davenport couldn’t catch up to a ball out wide.

“She would just reach for balls that I thought were pretty good passes,” Davenport said. “Her reach — especially on some return of serves and when she’s at the net — helps her cover a lot of the court.”

That the match went the distance was as much a testament to Davenport’s grit as her percussive ball-striking ability. The 1999 Wimbledon champion began the year battling a hamstring strain and pulled out of a fourth-round match at the French Open with pinched nerve in her left foot.

Despite cortisone treatments, Davenport said her achy foot ultimately will require surgery. She hopes to play through the summer hard court season and the U.S. Open before undergoing a November operation.

“I have to have it,” she said. “Or else I’ll never be able to walk again [without pain].”

Though Davenport said that she was encouraged by her play over the last two weeks, she mused that time was “running out” on her career and added that she wasn’t sure if she would return to Wimbledon next year.

“I don’t want to blow it out of proportion,” she said. “Absolutely no decision by far has been made. [But] the thoughts have been on my mind, especially when I need another surgery. It just wears on you after a while.

“I’m 27. I want to feel like I can keep getting better, and I want to feel like I’m one of the top players. I don’t want to be, you know, [ranked] six through 20. That’s just where my heart is.”

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