- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 4, 2008

NEW YORK | Serena Williams barely got the better of older sister Venus Williams in a U.S. Open quarterfinal that was fit for a final, coming back in each set to win 7-6 (6), 7-6 (7) on Wednesday night and break a tie in their head-to-head series.

Serena trailed 5-3 in both sets. She faced set points in both, including eight in the second. But she advanced to the semifinals at Flushing Meadows for the first time since 2002, the year she beat Venus in the title match for her second U.S. Open championship.

It was the siblings’ 17th meeting as professionals, and Serena leads 9-8. That includes 11 matches at Grand Slam tournaments, at which Serena leads 6-5.

She also has the edge in major championships 8-7, and only she can add to that total this weekend. The fourth-seeded Serena will meet No. 6 Dinara Safina in the semifinals.

Safina overpowered No. 16 Flavia Pennetta 6-2, 6-3 to reach her first semifinal at Flushing Meadows.

Safina, the sister of 2000 U.S. Open men’s champion Marat Safin, has won 37 of her past 41 matches and made it to the final at six of her previous seven events.

“I’m getting closer to reaching the same thing as my brother,” Safina said.

The French Open runner-up and Beijing Olympics silver medalist compiled a 25-13 edge in winners against Pennetta and was broken only once.

“She was playing unbelievable, you know,” Pennetta said. “She didn’t give me a lot of chance.”

Wednesday’s schedule also included two men’s quarterfinals. No. 6 Andy Murray of Britain reached his first Grand Slam semifinal by beating No. 17 Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina 7-6 (2), 7-6 (1), 4-6, 7-5 in a match that lasted nearly four hours and delayed the start of Williams vs. Williams.

The two-hour, 25-minute match made for a long night in Queens, as No. 1 men’s seed Rafael Nadal and American Mardy Fish took the court at 11:20 p.m. for their quarterfinal match.

Murray, who ended del Potro’s 23-match winning streak, clinched a rise to No. 4 in the rankings, matching the highest spot ever for a British man. Neither he nor del Potro played particularly well - each made far more unforced errors than winners - but Murray’s biggest complaint was when his request to have the overhead video boards shut off during points was denied.

For Pennetta, this was her first career major quarterfinal - and it showed, right from the start against Safina.

Pennetta came to the U.S. Open with a 21-22 career record in Grand Slam tournaments and a 1-4 mark at Flushing Meadows. She dropped her first service game Wednesday, misjudging an overhead to set up a break point, then flubbing a forehand to end a 15-stroke exchange.

That was part of Safina’s run to leads of 3-0 and 4-1. When Pennetta sailed yet another groundstroke long while serving down 5-2, the Russian earned another break and owned the first set.

Safina’s one real blip came when she was broken at love to fall behind 2-0 in the second set, as Pennetta smacked a backhand return winner on an 83 mph second serve. But Safina broke right back, then broke again for a 5-2 lead.

At the start of the U.S. Open, Safina was one of six women with a chance to be ranked No. 1 at the end of the tournament.

That included current No. 1 Ana Ivanovic, who was upset in the second round. But by virtue of No. 2 Jelena Jankovic making the semifinals, Ivanovic is assured of dropping from No. 1.

Jankovic will face No. 5 Elena Dementieva in the other women’s semifinal. They advanced with victories Tuesday.

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