Williams plays down rivalry with Capriati

Let's just get one thing straight. Serena Williams and Jennifer Capriati, who set up a quarter-final meeting yesterday with respective victories over Tatiana Golovin and Nadia Petrova, are not enemies. Far from it. But then again, don't run away with the idea that they are friends. Far from it.

Let's just get one thing straight. Serena Williams and Jennifer Capriati, who set up a quarter-final meeting yesterday with respective victories over Tatiana Golovin and Nadia Petrova, are not enemies. Far from it. But then again, don't run away with the idea that they are friends. Far from it.

As today's collision loomed large in the minds of the American media, there was strenuous investigation of the supposedly turbulent relationship between two of the leading ladies in US women's tennis. And each in turn made strenuous efforts to say everything except what seems obvious: they are rivals, and they don't particularly care for each other.

Williams, whose 6-2, 6-1 pounding of her 16-year-old Russian-born opponent included a Wimbledon record serve of 126mph, denied having any problem with the woman who beat her twice last month, in Rome and at the French Open.

"I think it was more or less you guys who perceived..." she maintained at her post-match press conference, adding with a slowly widening grin: "I know it was a particular commentator, for a fact. An American commentator, a lady, who said that ­ but I won't mention any names. She said: 'You can just see that they don't like each other.' But it was really never... I'm always professional.

"When I was younger I used to watch her, and I admired her being able to come back, do so well, win those Grand Slams. You can really see now that she's really happy... I never knock anyone for being happy," she added.

At least the question gained the younger Williams' attention, which at one stage appeared to be taken up by leafing through some match statistics ­ or perhaps a fashion magazine? ­ as the same old questions rained in.

Asked to endorse Serena's assessment that both players had respect for each other, Capriati duly obliged, before making it clear that it was a bare minimum, working relationship-type respect. "I mean obviously, you know, away from the court, everyone has their own life," she said. "Just when we come to the same work environment, we're seeing each other all the time so there's no need to be hostile... I think she respects my game, I respect her game, and that's basically it. We're not like enemies... but I'm not saying that we're best friends either and that we're going to go and hang out after."

So much for the relationship. The question of who will progress to the semi-finals is equally hard to fathom, although the tide appears to be running with Capriati, who has won their previous two meetings ­ at last month's Italian Open, and subsequently at Roland Garros.

Williams produced power of shock-and-awe proportions en route to victory yesterday, but she also made fitful unforced errors in a match where the scoreline slightly flattered her.

After losing her service in the first game of the second set, the woman who is seeking a hat-trick of Wimbledon titles was twice only one point away from going 2-0 down, but hung on to break back before winning the next four games.

Her mega-serve ­ roughly equal to Roger Federer's best ­ was the mightiest of three thunderous aces with which she secured her fourth game of the set, and it was hard to see any opponent being able to resist such fearsome power.

But the suspicion persists that Williams has not fully reclaimed her form since returning from the eight-month absence which followed a knee operation she underwent soon after defending her title here last July. She also endorsed that assessment afterwards. "I really didn't think I played well today," she said. "I thought I wasn't moving."

It only remained to check on how her much-publicised wider ambitions were progressing. Asked what her next casting call was for television or film, she responded like a trouper: "I don't know," she said. "I'll have to talk to my agent."

As for the question of whether it would mean more to her to earn an Oscar in the future or to win another Wimbledon title ­ and God knows, we have all had to riddle our way round that one in our time ­ she responded by underlining her desire to be victorious once again in SW19.

Possibly just as well.

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