Sat, Jul 02, 2005 - Page 20 News List

Venus battles past a feisty Sharapova

SEMIFINALS Williams kept Sharapova on the run with overpowering shots that helped her win four major women's pro titles

AP , WIMBLEDON, ENGLANDAP, WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND

Lindsay Davenport of the US serves to Amalie Mauresmo of France during their semifinal match at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London on Wednesday. Davenport defeated Mauresmo in the rain-delayed match on Friday 6-7(5), 7-6(4), 6-4.

PHOTO: AFP

Venus Williams hopped for joy, punched the air and doubled over in laughter, renewing a once-familiar Centre Court ritual.

The celebration came after Williams earned her sweetest victory yet in a career revival, beating 2004 champion Maria Sharapova 7-6 (2), 6-1 Thursday in the rain-delayed Wimbledon semifinals.

Gritting her teeth in determination between points, Williams kept Sharapova on the run with the kind of overpowering shots that helped her win four major titles. Seeded 14th, she'll play in a major final Saturday for the first time since sister Serena beat her for the 2003 Wimbledon title.

"Serena sent me an e-mail earlier, telling me what to do and to just stay in there and play my game and I was the best," Williams said, laughing. "I guess I took that to heart."

Rain forced the suspension of the other semifinal until yesterday with top-ranked Lindsay Davenport four points from the final. She led Amelie Mauresmo 6-7 (5), 7-6 (4), 5-3, love-15 when play was halted. Davenport went on to defeat Mauresmo 6-7(5), 7-6(4), 6-4 when play was resumed yesterday.

Williams is a two-time Wimbledon champion and two-time runner-up, but it has been nearly four years since her most recent Grand Slam championship. She has overcome a series of injuries and the perception that tennis is no longer a priority for her.

"My game has been improving step by step," Williams said. "There were times when I was disappointed in how I played, because I knew I could play better. But all in good time.

"Everyone has their moment in the sun. That's what my mom always says. Everyone gets to win sometimes. Even though I would like it to be me every time, it's almost impossible."

The 18-year-old Sharapova is finding that to be true. She hasn't reached a major final since her surprising title run at Wimbledon a year ago, and the loss snapped her grass-court streak of 22 consecutive victories.

"I'm obviously very sad," said Sharapova, who was seeded second. "This tournament means a lot to me, more than any other tournament. I guess there are more years to come."

Williams avenged her younger sister's upset loss to Sharapova in last year's final. Venus also upheld family pride with a fourth-round victory over Jill Craybas, who had upset two-time champion Serena less than 48 hours earlier.

Venus heard from her sister shortly after beating Sharapova.

"She called me to say, `Can I have your autograph?' When she leaves we still have fun, but it's not the same."

In the men's semifinals Friday, top-ranked Roger Federer will play No. 2 Lleyton Hewitt, and No. 3 Andy Roddick will face 2002 Australian Open champion Thomas Johansson, who is staging a career comeback from a serious knee injury. It's the first time since 1993 that all four men's semifinalists have won major titles.

Billie Jean King entertained Centre Court fans by talking rather than playing Thursday.

King, who won a total of 20 Wimbledon titles in singles, doubles and mixed doubles, spoke during a rain delay of more than four hours before the women's semifinals.

"Ever since I started tennis when I was 11 years old, I used to read about Wimbledon, I used to dream about Wimbledon," the 61-year-old King said in an interview from the stands that was heard over the public address system.

"I used to have my tennis racket in bed with me at night doing different grips and visualizing myself right out here on Centre Court."

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