Williams turns into comeback queen as Mauresmo makes exit

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The Independent Online

Serena Williams wants to produce a film about the life of Althea Gibson, the pioneering black player. Williams is also a budding actress and after her exploits here in the Australian Open maybe a Hollywood mogul will suggest she instead plays herself in a movie about one of sport's most unlikely comebacks.

The 25-year-old former world No 1, a past winner of seven Grand Slam titles, headed Down Under clearly short of peak fitness, having played only five tournaments in the previous 16 months and not beaten a top 10 player for two years. There were also major doubts about her commitment, particularly in view of her burgeoning outside interests.

Yesterday, however, Williams followed up her win over Nadia Petrova, the world No 6, by beating Jelena Jankovic, who had been tipped by many as a dark horse for the title. The 6-3, 6-2 victory was her best performance yet, full of thunderous groundstrokes, not to mention some outstanding volleys.

What is more, Williams' half of the draw suddenly opened up with surprise defeats for Amélie Mauresmo and Svetlana Kuznetsova, the No 2 and No 3 seeds, at the hands of Lucie Safarova and Shahar Peer respectively. Williams meets Peer, the No 16 seed, in tomorrow's quarter-finals, with Nicole Vaidisova, the No 10 seed, her likely semi-final opponent.

Williams said afterwards that she had always believed she could scale the heights again. "I believe in my game, and more than anything I believe in me," she said. "It doesn't matter what people say or write. At the end of the day I'm my biggest fan."

Twelve months ago Mauresmo's joy here was unconfined when she finally won a Grand Slam tournament, at the 32nd attempt. Her victory seemed to lift all the anxiety she had felt over years of disappointment, but yesterday's 6-4, 6-3 defeat was a reminder of the bad old days.

Perhaps Mauresmo is too intelligent for her own good and consequently thinks too much about her game. She looked tight and ill at ease, even when leading 4-1 in the first set, after which she lost seven games in a row.

Any hopes of a recovery all but disappeared when she served at 15-15 and 1-3 in the second set but promptly handed over the game with a meek forehand, a wild backhand and another careless forehand. Her defeat ensures that Maria Sharapova will return to the top of the world rankings next week.

Safarova, who was on court at the same time as her boyfriend, Tomas Berdych, was beating Dmitry Tursunov, had never gone beyond the second round of a Grand Slam tournament before coming here. The 19-year-old world No 70 has a powerful forehand and showed that she also has a good temperament for the big occasion.