- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 29, 2008

WIMBLEDON, England | One swing from completing her week’s work, Venus Williams toed the baseline, dribbled the ball, gave it a toss and delivered yet another thunderclap serve at sun-kissed Wimbledon.

The ace bounced off the Court 1 backstop as Williams trotted to the net to bid another foe farewell.

The scoreboard said 127 mph, the fastest women’s serve ever recorded at Wimbledon. The scoreboard also had Williams winning 6-1, 7-5 Saturday over qualifier Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez.

It was an upset-filled first week at Wimbledon and a rough one for American tennis, but the nonconformist Williams sisters ignored both trends. Four-time champion Venus and two-time champion Serena won three matches each without dropping a set.

Both advanced to Monday’s round of 16, as did No. 2-ranked Rafael Nadal on the men’s side.

With No. 1-ranked Ana Ivanovic and No. 2 Maria Sharapova eliminated, and with No. 3 Jelena Jankovic limping to victory, prospects look good for an all-Williams final next weekend.

“The chances were wonderful from the beginning, from round one,” Venus said. “That’s how we see it. The more we progress, obviously the closer it gets.”

It would be their first meeting in a Grand Slam final since Serena beat Venus for the 2003 Wimbledon title.

Potential pitfalls remain, Jankovic foremost among them. But she hurt her left knee in the first set against 17-year-old Caroline Wozniacki.

Jankovic won 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, finishing the match with her leg heavily wrapped. She planned to have an MRI before facing Tamarine Tanasugarn on Monday.

“I don’t think it’s that bad,” Jankovic said. “I hope for the best so that I will be able to play my next match.”

Unable to overcome injury was French Open runner-up Dinara Safina, who finished in tears as she lost to Shahar Peer 7-5, 6-7 (4), 8-6. Safina, who required treatment of her thighs during at least two changeovers, cried between points and hit half-speed serves in the final game, then double-faulted on match point.

Alla Kudryavtseva had a successful encore to her upset of Sharapova, reaching the fourth round at a major event for the first time by beating Peng Shuai 6-3, 1-6, 6-4.

With a late start on Centre Court, Nadal barely beat darkness but easily defeated Nicolas Kiefer 7-6 (3), 6-2, 6-3. Runner-up to Roger Federer the past two years, Nadal is trying to become the first man to win the French Open and Wimbledon consecutively since Bjorn Borg in 1980.

On Monday he’ll play No. 17-seeded Mikhail Youzhny.

In the wake of the worst showing by American men at Wimbledon since 1926, with no one reaching the second week in singles, top-seeded Bob and Mike Bryan advanced to the doubles quarterfinals.

But the U.S. curse extended to Russian Dmitry Tursunov, who lives in California, and German Tommy Haas, who lives in Florida. Both lost.

Tursunov was beaten by Janko Tipsarevic, who upset Andy Roddick in the second round. Haas was defeated by Andy Murray, seeking to become the first British man to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936.

The marquee men’s match Monday will be five-time defending champion Federer against 2002 winner Lleyton Hewitt.

Defending women’s champion Venus Williams is set to play Alisa Kleybanova, and Serena Williams will face unseeded Bethanie Mattek, the only other remaining American. Those matches are back to back on Court 2 - the “Graveyard of Champions” - but the sisters will nonetheless be heavily favored, as usual at Wimbledon, where they’ve won six of the past eight titles.

Venus and Serena have settled into a groove on grass after enduring third-round upsets at the French Open - only the second time both lost on the same day at a major event. Serena cleared Wimbledon’s third-round hurdle Friday, and Venus was in a hurry to follow.

Her opponent was a Spanish left-hander with a lifetime record of 4-7 in Grand Slam matches. Predictably, Martinez Sanchez had no chance in baseline rallies, and the first set was a tennis clinic of sorts, with Williams whacking winners all over the court.

Her serve was especially impressive - she finished with 11 aces and won 33 of 38 points on her first serve. Even Sanchez’s supporters could appreciate the overpowering performance.

“Vamos, Venus,” someone shouted.

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