Williams sisters' act dominates Open stage; Semifinals could turn into family celebration


NEW YORK -- Venus and Serena, the Sisters Williams, are all grown up.

Gone is the surliness. Gone is the defensiveness.

Which of them is playing better at the U.S. Open, they are asked.

Venus' head swivels to the left and Serena's to the right. They stare into each other's eyes.

Heads straighten.

"We're both playing pretty good at times," said Venus.

"Our dad is playing the best," said Serena, laughing. "He's really serving well -- at practice."

Richard Williams was serving pretty well earlier in this tournament, predicting on Day 1 that his daughters would meet in the Open final.

Now, they are each one win away from making their dad's lofty forecast come true.

Today, Venus and Serena are both in the Open semifinals, the first sisters to advance this far in this century.

The first of the two matches will be played between Serena, the No. 7 seed, and No. 2 Lindsay Davenport -- not before 1: 30 p.m. The second semifinal, between No. 1 Martina Hingis and No. 3 Venus, is to begin later, not before 3: 30.

Together, the two pairings present intriguing possibilities.

Tomorrow, the Open could see sisters playing for the championship for the first time.

Or there could be a rematch of last year's thrilling final between Hingis and Davenport, the defending champion.

Or there could be a completely different pairing.

In all cases, the anticipation is high.

The semifinal matches offer contrasting styles and levels of development. The Serena Williams-Davenport match will showcase a pair of big hitters, but Davenport is the more experienced.

It was just a year ago that Davenport broke through to win her first Grand Slam title here. In July, she won her second at Wimbledon. Now, at this Open, she's sailed through her first four matches without dropping a set.

Then she had to claw back from the brink of elimination to win her quarterfinal match against Mary Pierce, 6-2, 3-6, 7-5, and wind up on the doorstep of her second Open final.

In her way is Serena. A strong, confident young woman at 17, Serena holds a 2-1 advantage in previous meetings. And she has demonstrated the ability here to overcome first-set losses and a high number of unforced errors in every match to win.

The question these two will settle is whether Davenport's experience in Grand Slam play and her finely structured service game can overcome Serena's self-confidence and powerful ground game in a match that is the biggest of Serena's career.

The second semifinal is a rematch of the 1997 Open final, in which Hingis had the best of the match against a very young, very nervous Venus.

"Last time, I honestly didn't know what I was doing," said Venus, who lost, 6-0, 6-4. "I was her victim. I'm a different player now, and I hope to play better."

Several players, including Serena, have said Hingis is perhaps the smartest player on the court, capable of adjusting her game plan in mid-match. But Hingis, herself, points to Venus as being one of the other players who is smart on court and also capable of change.

But the question is whether Hingis can stand up to the pace and power if Venus is at the top of her game.

"If I'm playing my best," Venus said, "I believe I can beat anybody -- anybody."

There is little doubt that both Williamses can overpower anyone on tour if they are on their games, and yesterday, there seemed little doubt of their confidence.

They played their doubles match and powered past Mary Joe Fernandez and Monica Seles, 6-3, 6-3, into the women's doubles semifinals and then breezed into the media room for their post-match interview.

They've been smiling all week, seemingly enjoying the banter.

Serena has revealed that she loves designing clothes and learning languages. Venus, at 19, is more relaxed and mature.

"I always felt [I could win a Grand Slam], but I haven't done it yet," Venus said. "I'm really trying to take the steps to really make it a reality. That all entails focusing more, trying to close out the points and the games when you have the break points. I have a choice: Either I get better or stay at the same level. I want to get better."

Both are getting better. Both are on the brink of a breakthrough. Serena is in her first Grand Slam semifinal. Venus is in her third straight at the Open.

They've packed the center court and the outside courts. Wherever they play, crowds follow.

"People want to be part of what's happening," said Venus. "People are running to be part of it. Honestly, if you saw something good, wouldn't you want to be in it? I would."

"I definitely would," said Serena, nodding her beaded head.


Men's singles quarterfinals

Cedric Pioline, France, def. Gustavo Kuerten (5), Brazil, 4-6, 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (16-14), 7-6 (10-8).

Todd Martin (7), United States, def. Slava Dosedel, Czech Republic, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4.

Featured matches

Women's singles today

Serena Williams (7), United States, vs. Lindsay Davenport (2), United States

Martina Hingis (1), Switzerland, vs. Venus Williams (3), United States

Pub Date: 9/10/99

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