NEW YORK -- Mary Pierce's hands betrayed her. Not once or twice, but three times. The last time, it was on her second serve with No. 2 seed Lindsay Davenport waiting across the net, hoping to complete the match.
Davenport didn't have long to wait. Pierce held the ball against the throat of her racket and her hands rattled.
With Serena Williams' victory, she moves into the semifinals with sister Venus, who will meet No. 1 Martina Hingis in the other half of the semifinals tomorrow. This is the first time sisters have made it this far in the U.S. Open since 1897, when Juliette and Kathleen Atkinson did it back when the tournament was known as the U.S. Championships.
"Nervousness, it happens to everyone sometime," said Davenport. "Everyone goes through it, No. 100 or No. 1 in the world, Everyone does it. Sometimes, you can't help from getting nervous."
Yesterday afternoon on the Arthur Ashe Stadium Court, Davenport had to deal with her own nervous moments. She had found herself playing off her back foot time and again, as Pierce grew more and more confident and forced her to retreat deeper and deeper on court.
At 5-4, 40-30 in the third, it was Pierce serving for the match. Davenport hit a sharp-angled backhand winner after a good rally to get to deuce.
And then Pierce's hands began to shake. She saved one break point after that, blew another match point and finally lost the game when she hit a forehand into the net.
"I'm human," Pierce said. "I got a little bit nervous and a little tight."
The raindrops started. Pierce came off court, sat in her chair, took off her headband and wrung several cups of perspiration.
Neither woman wanted to take a break, they said. Pierce wanted to get the break of serve back, and Davenport wanted to try to continue her momentum. But the U.S. Tennis Association is taking no chances after the incident Sunday when Mary Joe Fernandez slipped on a wet court and strained her quadriceps muscle. That slip virtually ended her hope of upsetting Venus Williams in the fourth round.
Pierce used the 70-minute delay to relax and get over her disappointment at not closing out the match.
Davenport talked to her coach, Robert Van't Hof.
He told her to play more aggressively, to stop letting Pierce dictate play. He said to step in and try to hit some balls.
"He said, 'The next couple games try and be more aggressive, whether you win or lose, and don't let her go for so many winners,' " Davenport said, rolling her eyes. "It's tough to do. She's hitting the ball so hard. She's serving really well."
But Davenport was reinvigorated. She was still in the tournament at a time when she felt she should have been back in Manhattan packing her suitcase for the next flight out.
And she had seen Todd Martin rally just the night before to make the men's quarterfinal after facing match point in the third set of his match with Greg Rusedski.
"For sure, seeing at the end how he pulled it out was just fantastic," Davenport said. "What a huge effort he made."
When play resumed, both women made big efforts. Davenport held her serve at 6-5, and then Pierce served, trying to force a tiebreaker. At 15-15, they combined for one of the best points of this tournament. There were at least five shots that would have been winners in any other match. But these two kept pounding the ball deeper. Pierce was playing 10 feet behind the baseline, with her back up against the big blue wall, when she finally slammed a forehand crosscourt that Davenport just couldn't reach.
The smile that played across her face was blinding. But short-lived. On game point, her forehand went just wide. She fought off one match point, but when it came time to match point again, her hands again let her down.
Davenport was ready. Pierce wasn't. Her shaking hands and the wavering racket never made a solid connection.
Double fault No. 7.
"I try to take the best out of everything and be optimistic and positive," Pierce said. "I'm just proud of my effort. I mean, Lindsay won this tournament last year. She's No. 2 in the world, was No. 1. I had two match points. I have to look at it that way, that my game is coming along But I give Lindsay a lot of credit. That's what makes Lindsay one of the top players. She's always there, and she plays the big points well."
Men's singles quarterfinals
Yevgeny Kafelnikov (3) def. Richard Krajicek (12), 7-6 (7-0), 7-6 (7-4), 3-6, 1-6, 7-6 (7-5).
Andre Agassi (2) def. Nicolas Escude, 7-6 (7-3), 6-3, 6-4.
Women's singles quarterfinals
Lindsay Davenport (2) def. Mary Pierce (5), 6-2, 3-6, 7-5.
Serena Williams (7) def. Monica Seles (4), 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.
Men's singles today
Gustavo Kuerten (5) vs. Cedric Pioline
Todd Martin (7) vs. Slava Dosedel
Pub Date: 9/09/99