NEW YORK -- Venus Williams watched Mary Joe Fernandez slip on the Arthur Ashe Stadium court late yesterday afternoon, and a look of pain and concern immediately crossed her face.
As Fernandez sat there, checking her body parts, Williams crossed the court to her side.
"I'm sorry, Mary," Williams said. "You OK, Mary?"
"No, but that's OK," Fernandez told her, adding she would probably be all right later.
But it was the beginning of the end for Fernandez yesterday. A strained quadriceps curtailed her mobility and short-circuited her game plan, and Williams' game improved.
The No. 3 seed advanced with a 2-6, 6-1, 6-0 victory.
"It was really nice of her to make sure I was OK," Fernandez said. "These things happen. I was just a little unlucky."
Williams will next face No. 12 Barbara Schett, a 6-0, 6-1 victor over Elena Likhovtseva. Schett gained the first Grand Slam quarterfinal of her career.
Williams made it to the final here two years ago before losing to No. 1 Martina Hingis. But yesterday, in the first set, Fernandez, whom tennis experts gave little chance against the bigger, stronger Williams, had seemed intent on ending her drive to return.
Playing consistent, deep balls with little spin that she kept in the middle of the court, Fernandez rolled through the first set.
"Both Venus and her sister, Serena, love it when they're pulled out of the court for a return," Fernandez said. "They have great wing span, and they love to play the sharp angles. I tried to keep the ball deep and in the middle of the court and not allow those angles.
"But Venus is smart, she figures things out and she was starting to adjust her game. But I was pleased with how well I was executing."
The rain, which delayed play and forced the postponement of 19 matches from yesterday to today, delayed the Williams-Fernandez match three times and played a major part in preventing an upset by Fernandez.
After winning the first set, Fernandez found herself down a break at 2-0 in the second. She had just hit a beautiful, backhand stab volley to reach deuce on Williams' serve, and was moving cross court for a backhand return when her right foot slipped on the wet court.
She hyperextended her right knee and, as she went down in a heap, strained her quadriceps.
"As soon as it starts to rain, this court gets very slippery," said Fernandez, a 15-year veteran at the age of 28. "I should have said something before the point started. When we stopped earlier, I had dragged my foot a little bit on the court, saw that it was kind of slick. I asked, and we stopped.
"But once you get started, you want to keep playing. I thought, 'Maybe it's going to stop.' But it was [already] too slippery."
Whether Fernandez's injury made a difference in the outcome is impossible to say. Williams was already starting to adjust. She was hitting with more spin, hitting deeper and waiting for her opportunities.
But after the injury, which came just before a 90-minute rain delay, the match belonged to the younger and faster woman.
Williams, 19, hadn't played a match since Wednesday. That, combined with Fernandez's early play, had an obvious impact.
"I was just off at the start," said Williams, who added she is over a cold she had earlier last week. "I couldn't seem to get my rhythm, and Mary started making some good shots, too, hitting some lines, pinpointing shots.
"I had to find a way to get back in it. After [those] rain delays, I finally started playing better."
Williams, in the Open quarterfinals for the third straight year, said she will be ready for No. 12 Schett.
"I know for a fact I could raise the level of my game when it counts," Williams said. "I've done it before. But, the thing is, I shouldn't be raising the level of my game.
"I should be playing wonderful tennis all throughout this next week. I'm looking forward to my next opponent just to prepare myself. And, naturally, I'm going to have to be ready because Barbara Schett has her first chance to get to the semifinals of a Grand Slam."
Gustavo Kuerten (5) def. Goran Ivanisevic, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4; Todd Martin (7) def. Magnus Larsson, 6-3, retired; Greg Rusedski (9) def. Chris Woodruff, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4; Tommy Haas (14) def. Hicham Arazi, 6-7 (7-9), 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (7-3); Jiri Novak def. Fabrice Santoro, 6-1, 6-0, 5-1, retired; Slava Dosedel def. Fredrik Jonsson, 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (8-6), 6-3; Magnus Norman def. Richard Fromberg, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1, 6-3; Cedric Pioline def. Peter Wessels, 7-6 (7-5), 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (7-1).
Martina Hingis (1) def. Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario (10), 6-4, 7-5; Venus Williams (3) def. Mary Joe Fernandez, 2-6, 6-1, 6-0; Barbara Schett (12) def. Elena Likhovtseva, 6-0, 6-1; Anke Huber def. Amelie Mauresmo (15), 6-4, 6-4.
Men's singles today
Andre Agassi (2) vs. Arnaud Clement
Yevgeny Kafelnikov (3) vs. Andrei Medvedev
Marcelo Rios (10) vs. Nicolas Escude, France
Richard Krajicek (12) vs. Vince Spadea
Women's singles today
Lindsay Davenport (2) vs. Julie Halard-Decugis
Monica Seles (4) vs. Jennifer Capriati
Mary Pierce (5) vs. Sabine Appelmans
Serena Williams (7) vs. Conchita Martinez
Pub Date: 9/06/99