Serena eclipsed by Venus but sisters serve up mediocrity

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The Williams sisters were unable to raise the pulse rate in their much-hyped fourth-round match at the US Open yesterday, when Venus, the 10th seed, defeated Serena, the eighth seed, 7-6, 6-2,

Frankly, the afternoon's showpiece in Arthur Ashe Stadium proved to be a disappointment, chiefly because Serena had neither the form nor the fitness to do much other than rely on her older sister's errors to keep her in contention in the opening set.

"We've just been in the locker room, telling each other how horribly we played," Serena said.

Having had to deal with ankle and knee injuries since winning the Australian Open in January, Serena has been unable to play with the power and pace that once enabled her to dominate the game.

Venus, who dramatically fought off injuries to win the Wimbledon title in July, has now levelled the 14-match series against her sister, although this latest match is unlikely to be a burning topic, even in the Williams household. Six of their previous meetings have been in Grand Slam finals, Serena winning five of them, sometimes emphatically, occasionally controversially; at least in the view of the media.

Yesterday's match simple reflected how little Serena has been able to play of late. The opening set was a catalogue of missed opportunities. Venus broke for 4-3 on her seventh break point, having saved two. Serena broke back on her fifth break point as Venus served for the set at 5-4, though Venus virtually gifted the game by double faulting twice.

Serena, having looked second best, had the first chance to take the set at 6-5 after Venus hit a forehand long. Venus made amends, serving away the set point. She then over-ruled the umpire, Lynn Welch, on a close baseline call against Serena. The point was replayed and the set moved to the tie-break. There were six mini-breaks in the shoot-out, which Venus won, 7-5, on her first set point, Serena netting a backhand.

Venus also looked the livelier in the second set, breaking for 3-1 and again at 5-2 to end the match after an hour and 28 minutes.

Maria Sharapova, the top seed, also reached the quarter-finals without being troubled in a 6-2, 6-1 win against Sania Mirza, of India. The Russian next plays her compatriot, the ninth-seeded Nadia Petrova, who overcame the 16-year-old Czech Nicole Vaidisova, 7-6, 7-5.

The Californian Taylor Dent chose not to represent Australia, the land of his father, Phil, a former ATP Tour player. Dent Jnr certainly played like an Aussie yesterday: confident, aggressive, and hard to beat.

Unfortunately for Dent, an Aussie was on the opposite side of the net in the shape of Lleyton Hewitt, the third seed and 2001 champion, who embraces the qualities of his sporting contemporaries with an extra dose of cussedness.

Dent, who lost to Britain's Andy Murray in the first round at both Queen's Club and the Cincinnati Masters, served and volleyed like a demon in the third round of the men's singles yesterday, only for Hewitt to deliver the killer blows to win, 6-3, 3-6, 6-7, 6-2, 7-5.

After Hewitt recovered from two sets to one down and broke for 4-3 in the final set, home supporters may have thought Dent's challenge was over. But Hewitt then played a sloppy service game, double-faulting twice and hitting a forehand long.

"Come on," roared Dent, Hewitt style, and held for 5-4 after saving a break point in a ninth game that sparkled with shots on both sides of the net. The pressure shifted back to Hewitt, who held serve for 5-5 with a forehand volley and an ace.

Hewitt made the decisive break for 6-5, returning three successive volleys to win a key point at 0-15 and hitting an unstoppable drive after Dent double-faulted to 15-40.

In the concluding game, Dent saved three match points but Hewitt converted his fourth with an ace down the middle.

Even though Dent was eliminated and Andy Roddick is a distant memory, there is still a possibility that at least one American will reach the last four.

Spectators ­ and the sponsors ­ are hoping that the quarter-finals will feature a contest between the 35-year-old Andre Agassi, from Las Vegas, and James Blake, a local boy from Yonkers, who is the maestro's junior by 10 years.

The advance of Agassi, who is heading for a last hurrah at a major championships, and Blake, who has made a rousing comeback after a year that would have finished lesser men, has captured the imagination.

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