Thu, Jul 01, 2004 - Page 20 News List

Serena feels like a pistol

WIMBLEDON Defending Champion Serena Williams steamrolled her opponent in her quest for another championship in Engalnd

AP , WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND

Fourth seed Amelie Mauresmo hits a backhand return to 14th seed Silvia Farina Elia in their fourth round match at the Wimbledon Championships in London, Tuesday.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Pow! A 167kph ace. Crack! A 182kph ace. Wham! A 203kph ace, the fastest serve ever hit by a woman at Wimbledon.

When Serena Williams ends games that way, as she did during a 6-2, 6-1 victory over Tatiana Golovin on Tuesday, it's easy to understand why she's closing in on becoming just the third woman in 35 years to win three straight titles at the All England Club.

And it's easy to dismiss recent chatter about whether Williams can be No. 1 again. Whether she can dominate despite being too rusty or too consumed by acting and fashion designing or too distracted by the shooting death of her half-sister last year.

Doubts tend to dissipate when watching her drop a total of 15 games through four matches, albeit without facing a seeded player. Her 12 aces Tuesday, including trios in three games, gave her 33 for the tournament, with only two double-faults.

"I'm feeling like Pete Sampras, for sure," she said, smiling at her words. "It's important for me to always have that confidence in myself and know that I can win this tournament if I put my mind to it."

Next comes a big test, though: a quarterfinal Wednesday against Jennifer Capriati, who beat No. 10 Nadia Petrova 6-4, 6-4. The Williams-Capriati winner will face No. 4 Amelie Mauresmo or No. 9 Paola Suarez in the semifinals.

The other semifinal is set: 1999 champion Lindsay Davenport vs. No. 13 Maria Sharapova, players at opposite ends of their careers.

Davenport, 28, beat Karolina Sprem 6-2, 6-2, then said there's "probably a good chance" this is her last Wimbledon. The Siberian-born, Florida-raised Sharapova, 17, got past No. 11 Ai Sugiyama 5-7, 7-5, 6-1 to become the tournament's youngest semifinalist since 1997, when Martina Hingis and Anna Kournikova were 16.

Hingis went on to win the title. Sharapova, headed to her first major semifinal, sees no reason why she can't, too.

"I'm going to give it my all," said Sharapova, who has a deal with a modeling agency but shuns comparisons with zero-title Kournikova. "That's what I'm here for, and I want to win this tournament. I want it very bad."

It's become somewhat en vogue to question how badly the Williams sisters want to return to the top of tennis. After both missed the second half of last season with injuries, then showed off-and-on form in 2004, Serena is ranked No. 10, and Venus is No. 8. Both lost in the quarterfinals at the French Open; neither has been to a Slam semifinal since a year ago at Wimbledon.

Their oustpoken father, Richard, has long encouraged his daughters to develop interests outside tennis. Indeed, he reiterated Tuesday that he wouldn't mind if they quit playing altogether sooner rather than later.

"I wouldn't be disappointed at all if they walk away," he said. "We'd like for them to walk away at the same time. They need each other."

Serena grew accustomed to having Venus around at this stage of major tournaments. They met in five of six Slam finals over one stretch, with little sister winning each time, including at Wimbledon the past two years.

But Venus is gone, having lost a second-round match that forever will be remembered for the extra point Sprem was awarded by the chair umpire.

"It's kind of stressful because all the attention's on me now from my mom and my dad," Serena said. "Usually, I slack off, let them talk to Venus, and I'm in the background. Now they're totally focused on me."

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