- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 30, 2004

WIMBLEDON, England — On one side, hot pants. On the other, a frayed miniskirt.

The fashion was scintillating. The tennis? Not so much.

In a Centre Court match that was less tete-a-tete than pret-a-porter, Serena Williams swamped scantily clad French teen Tatiana Golovin yesterday, notching a 6-2, 6-1 win in Wimbledon’s fourth round.

With the victory, top seed and two-time defending champion Williams advanced to a quarterfinal meeting today with longtime rival Jennifer Capriati, who outslugged Russia’s Nadia Petrova 6-4, 6-4.

Though Williams scratched out a three-set victory over Capriati in last year’s Wimbledon quarters, Capriati has defeated Williams twice this season, most recently at the French Open.

“We definitely have a nice rivalry going on,” Williams said of Capriati. “I like it. We’re both really good athletes, able to contort our bodies and make the shots. Just pure athleticism out there.”

In yesterday’s quarterfinals — the bottom half of the women’s draw is a day ahead because of last week’s rain delays — Lindsay Davenport stopped Croatia’s Karolina Sprem 6-2, 6-2, and Russia’s Maria Sharapova outlasted Japan’s Ai Sugiyama 5-7, 7-5, 6-1.

Davenport, the 1999 champion, will reach her first major final in four years if she tops the 17-year-old Sharapova in tomorrow’s semifinals.

“I can’t remember how well I was playing five years ago,” Davenport said. “But at this point I’m hitting the ball well and serving well and doing the things I need to do on grass to succeed.”

Golovin, a Russian-born 16-year-old who reached the Australian Open’s fourth round as a wild card, strolled onto Centre Court wearing John Stockton-shaming short shorts — a getup that wouldn’t be out of place on the catsuit-favoring Williams, whose skirt looked like it had taken a back-alley beating from an ill-tempered pair of scissors.

“I think the girls are coming out with better outfits,” said Williams, who has studied fashion and founded a design company. “It’s definitely better than it was, you know, five years ago. I had something really, really super sexy, but they wouldn’t let me wear it.”

If Golovin’s risque outfit was intended to inspire a carnival-like atmosphere, Williams was having none of it. Her face a mask of imperious, almost bored indifference, she fired an ace to close her first service game, then broke Golovin for a 2-0 lead.

A handful of sloppy Williams shots allowed Golovin to pull to 3-2 in the first set; from there, the only real question was whether BBC cameramen would refrain from zooming in on Golovin’s barely there bottoms at every possible opportunity (answer: no).

Though Golovin has the hard-hitting makings of a future star, she had no answer for Williams’ here-and-now talent. Williams smacked 12 aces, one at a Wimbledon-record 126 mph; after one blast, she turned away from the net to fiddle with her racket strings even before Golovin batted a feeble return into the net.

When Golovin managed a break to open the second set, Williams responded by winning 11 of the next 12 points. Game, set and so on. When it was over, Williams gave a quick wave and a half-smile to the crowd, which included parents Richard and Oracene.

With big sister Venus out of the draw, Williams joked, the family’s attention has shifted to her. Somewhat stressfully.

“Usually, I kind of slack off, let them talk to Venus, and I’m in the background chilling,” she said with a laugh. “Now, they’re totally focused on me. It’s like, ‘OK, calm down.’”

Capriati needed all her composure against Petrova, a 22-year-old who came to prominence with a fourth-round upset of Capriati in last year’s French Open.

At 5-foot-10 and 143 muscular pounds, Petrova packs nearly as much baseline punch as Capriati; consequently, the match was a war of attrition, rife with long rallies that came down to who could hit hardest, longest.

The pair combined for three breaks in the first set, one set up by a Capriati running forehand that skimmed crosscourt and barely clipped the opposite sideline. In the second set, Capriati took the unusual step of switching rackets midgame; whatever the reason, it worked, and she held serve to take a 4-2 lead.

On match point, Petrova sprayed a forehand wide. Capriati raised a clenched fist and smiled toward Tom Gullikson, her new coach. Capriati began working with Gullikson following a disappointing loss to Anastasia Myskina in the French Open semis.

“He’s just a real positive guy, real laid back, just keeps it relaxed,” Capriati said. “There’s not a lot of different things that he’s telling me.”

Capriati has been a different player against Williams as of late, winning two straight matches after dropping eight in a row.

Though the two share a long, contentious history — Williams leads the all-time series 9-6 — both players downplayed reports of personal animosity.

“We come to the same work environment, see each other all the time,” Capriati said. “There’s really no need to be hostile. I think she respects my game. I respect her game, and that’s basically it.”

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