- The Washington Times - Monday, June 2, 2003

PARIS — Jeers and whistles rained down as Venus Williams brushed past a TV interviewer on her way off the court. She raised a hand to wave stiffly.

In the stands above, her sister Serena and mother quickly rose to leave.

The family isn’t used to such early exits at Grand Slam tournaments.

Trapped in a rut of 12 double-faults and 75 unforced errors, Williams was stunned by Russian teen Vera Zvonareva 2-6, 6-2, 6-4 yesterday in the French Open’s fourth round.

The loss ends the run of four straight Williams vs. Williams major finals, all won by Serena.

“I was really off,” Venus said. “I just had a tough time keeping balls in.”

Over and over, she whipped shots that usually produce clean winners, only to see Zvonareva scramble from corner to corner to retrieve the ball. Zvonareva — who lost to Serena in Paris last year — would slide along the baseline to chop a stroke, her racket making contact with the ball then smacking the court.

Slide and smack. Slide and smack.

Forced to play long points, Williams repeatedly blinked first. Add up the unforced errors and double-faults: Her mistakes accounted for 87 of Zvonareva’s 100 points.

“You just should fight for every ball. Only in that case can you win,” said the 18-year-old Zvonareva, who began last year ranked 371st and trains part of the time in College Park. “I just was playing for every ball. And, of course, anyone can miss a ball.”

She had only 11 groundstroke winners; Williams had 28.

Zvonareva, seeded 22nd, should feel right at home in her first major quarterfinal. Her opponent will be countrywoman Nadia Petrova, who upset 2001 champion Jennifer Capriati 6-3, 4-6, 6-3.

Zvonareva’s page in the tour media guide says her most memorable match was a 6-0, 6-0 loss to Petrova at age 8. That needs to be updated.

Tomorrow’s other quarterfinals are defending champion Serena Williams vs. No.5 Amelie Mauresmo, who beat her on clay last month; No.2 Kim Clijsters vs. No.24 Conchita Martinez, who advanced when Lindsay Davenport stopped with a toe injury; and No.4 Justine Henin-Hardenne vs. No.8 Chanda Rubin.

Andre Agassi reached the quarterfinals by beating Flavio Saretta 6-2, 6-1, 7-5 and was joined by 1998 French Open champion Carlos Moya and Dutch qualifier Martin Verkerk.

“I knew the first week was going to be crucial for me,” Agassi said. “Now it’s basically like a new life. I’ve sort of found my comfort zone out there — striking the ball well, moving and feeling pretty comfortable.”

Venus Williams never seemed comfortable on this trip to Roland Garros. She was extended to three sets in the second round by a player ranked 110th and had several poor patches against Zvonareva.

Williams started yesterday with a double-fault, one of four in the game. Zvonareva provided some symmetry by double-faulting on the opening set’s final point.

It would have been easy for such an inexperienced player to be discouraged.

“I just thought: ‘OK, I lost the first set. Maybe I didn’t play my best, but I will try to show my best game in the second set because it’s the only way I can beat her,’” Zvonareva said.

She took a 3-0 lead in the second set with help from four double-faults by Williams. It also helped that Williams never really got the measure of the Russian’s serve, repeatedly missing returns.

By the last set, the center-court crowd was behind Zvonareva, chanting “Veh-rah! Veh-rah!” after she tiptoed through one break point and four deuces to get to 1-1. The players traded breaks, and it was 4-4 when Zvonareva seized control for good. She got to break point when a 12-stroke rally ended with Williams’ long backhand and took a 5-4 lead by snapping a forehand winner off the baseline.

The final game was a miniature version of the match: Williams sent a forehand into the net to make it 15-0; she did it again for 30-0; she smacked a forehand winner to get within 30-15; she sent a forehand into the net for 40-15; and, on match point, she sent a backhand wide on a 13-stroke rally.

Accustomed to being undone at Grand Slams by a Williams — little sis — Venus was largely her own undoing this time.

“I definitely had a lot of opportunities,” she said. “Sometimes, I felt like maybe I went for too much or I went for too little.”

Before the French Open, Williams hadn’t played since May4, when she quit during the final of a clay-court tournament in Poland because of a stomach muscle injury.

Still, Williams usually plays the big points at the big tournaments brilliantly, which is why she owns four major titles, two each at the U.S. Open and Wimbledon. Set aside the losses to Serena, and Williams entered yesterday with a 45-1 record at Slams since Wimbledon in 2001.

“Each match is tough if it’s a loss,” she said, “especially if it’s a Grand Slam.”

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