The Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, are preparing to duel for the seventh time today in the semi-finals of the Nasdaq-100 Open here. Every observer, from the press box to the top tier of the stadium, is hoping to see a full-blooded contest after some of the anti-climactic matches in Venus' favour.
Venus, the defending champion, has won five of her six previous matches against her younger sibling, most recently in the final of the United States Open in September last year. Serena was given a walk-over when Venus withdrew injured shortly before she was due on court for the semi-final at Indian Wells last year, and their "rivalry" has raised scepticism in some quarters.
Serena was certainly in aggressive form yesterday against Martina Hingis, hardly a family friend, in the quarter-finals. She over-powered the Swiss former world No 1 after 59 minutes, 6-4, 6-0. The second set, which flashed by in 20 minutes, was the first instance of either Williams sister finishing off Hingis to love. Hingis won only two points in the first four games of the set, and hit only four winners in the match.
Thankfully, the first set was competitive, even though it was a familiar story of Williams serving away the opportunities Hingis created with smart tennis, and then capitalising on her opponent's comparatively feeble serve.
Hingis had three break points before Williams took control. The first at 1-1, roused Williams to deliver serve with such pace and accuracy that Hingis' attempt to parry with a backhand was futile. Williams' mother, Oracene, wearing a military-style camouflage jacket, looked on approvingly.
Remaining patient, Hingis worked her way to two more break points at 2-2. Williams' solid first serve opened the court for a forehand drive that erased the first threat, and she was able to repeat the process with a second serve. The American then aced Hingis and subdued here with a classic serve and volley on game point.
Hingis knew from past experience that it would not be long before Williams retaliated, and the punishment began in the sixth game. Eager to pounce on Hingis' second serve, Williams' attack at 15-30 bought her the time and space to execute a drop shot. When Hingis missed her first serve again on the break point, Williams returned an 86mph second delivery with a fearsome forehand down the line to lead, 4-2.
Surprisingly, Williams failed to serve the set out at 5-3, netting a smash and hitting two-double faults. Hingis was unable to capitalise on the break, lapsing to 4-5, 0-40, and saving only two of the set points before netting a backhand.
Hingis, allowing her mind to dwell on the disappointment, double-faulted to 0-40 in the second game of the second set and then hit a backhand wide as Williams broke to take the first eight points of the set. Hingis was broken again for 0-4, and only managed to create one opportunity in the set Williams replying with another cracking forehand at 30-40 in the fifth game before ending the match embarrassingly with a double-fault.
Williams leads their head-to-head, 7-6 all her wins achieved on American concrete courts. Hingis lamented not taking her chances in the first set. It was the first time this year that she had failed to progress beyond a quarter-final, and the first time since 1996 that she had lost before the semi-finals here in Key Biscayne.
Today's other semi-final will pit Jennifer Capriati, the world No 1, against either Monica Seles or Kim Clijsters. Capriati eased past Tatiana Panova, of Russia, 6-2, 6-0, in the quarter-finals.
In the men's singles quarter-finals, Lleyton Hewitt, the Australian world No 1, plays Marat Safin, of Russia. Hewitt defeated James Blake, of the United States, 6-4, 6-1, and Safin overcame Fernando Gonzales, the Chilean qualifier who eliminated Pete Sampras, 6-3, 6-3. Andre Agassi, the defending champion, also advanced to the last eight with a 6-3, 7-5 win against Nicolas Lapentti, of Ecuador.