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Monday, June 29, 2009
Injured Williams sisters show no ill effects

WIMBLEDON, England -- Richard Williams, the colorful, sometimes controversial dad of two of the greatest women's tennis players on the planet, couldn't contain his excitement after watching patched-up daughter Venus Williams cruise to the quarterfinals at Wimbledon.

On an unusually hot summer day in southwest London, Venus joined little sister Serena Williams and perennial U.S. No. 1 Andy Roddick in the respective women's and men's last eight. A fourth American, gutsy 17-year-old qualifier Melanie Oudin, saw her unlikely adventure conclude.

"Venus put on a show today, and I would call it the Venus Williams Show," Richard Williams said before scurrying to a balcony close to the players' restaurant that overlooks intimate Court 14.

Venus Williams steamrolled the emotional -- and, as it turned out, injured -- Ana Ivanovic on Court 1. The only threat to the two-time defending champ manifested during the opening game, when the Serb manufactured but failed to convert break points.

Ivanovic, a shadow of the player who won the French Open and ascended to the No. 1 ranking a year ago, immediately dropped serve. Williams coasted to the opener 6-1 in a half hour, capturing a 30th straight set at the tournament dating back to the third round in 2007, and Ivanovic retired with an inner-thigh injury leading 1-0 in the second.

The strapping meant to protect Venus Williams' left knee was still in place, and Richard Williams said in practice Monday morning that the victor couldn't "move that good." Asked to assess the knee, he suggested it was at a precise 68 percent.

It could get better, or it could get worse.

"As soon as you start hurting that knee, it's going to go to the other knee," he said. "It's going to go to the hip, somewhere else, so we're trying to keep her off it as much as possible. I told her that any ball you get in a rally, just nail it, because if she's hitting it, very few people can stand under that power."

Venus, as she has done the past week, didn't reveal too much in her postmatch news conference. Pain is present, but the details are scarce.

"This is Wimbledon, so whatever," said Williams, now 10-0 in fourth-round matches at Wimbledon. "It doesn't matter how much pain I'm in. I'm going to keep playing."

Papa Williams claimed Serena isn't completely healthy, either. Lingering knee and ankle injuries contributed to the 10-time Grand Slam champion recently losing four straight matches for the first time in her career.

Like Venus, Serena didn't show any ill effects as the sisters moved a step closer toward meeting on the final Saturday for a second year in a row. The latter crushed dangerous Slovak Daniela Hantuchova 6-3, 6-1 in 56 minutes.

Living in Florida, Serena wasn't bothered by temperatures that hovered around 86 degrees, volcanic around these parts. Instead, she was bothered by her own performance.

"I feel I can play better," she said. "I know I can. So the fact that I actually know I can get to a higher level is good for me."

Does the second seed (one spot higher than Venus) need to be pushed a little more?

"Maybe I just need an espresso," Serena said.

The sisters later played doubles and double-bageled seeded Chinese pair Zi Yan and Zheng Jie in 46 minutes.

Roddick has had his share of injury worries, too: A bum ankle forced the newly married 26-year-old to retire at the Wimbledon warm-up AEGON Championships. Roddick dropped a set in each of his first three matches here, though against underachieving Czech Tomas Berdych, he needed the minimum, prevailing 7-6 (4), 6-4, 6-3. Berdych hadn't dropped a set, incidentally, through three rounds.

Roddick served at 70 percent, thumped 24 aces and didn't face a break point. You just knew he'd win the big points.

He gets a much better competitor, rejuvenated 2002 titlist Lleyton Hewitt, in the quarterfinals of the top half vacated by defending champion Rafael Nadal. Hewitt, passionately backed yet again by Aussie fans, rallied from two sets down to eliminate Czech Radek Stepanek. Roddick has won four straight against Hewitt.

"It doesn't get any easier from here," said Roddick, twice a Wimbledon finalist. "I have loads of respect for Lleyton, what he's been able to accomplish. Everyone knows he's certainly capable of playing very, very, very well on this surface."

A seventh match (including qualifying) turned out to be too much for the diminutive Oudin, who failed to hold break leads in both sets and departed 6-4, 7-5 to 11th seed Agnieszka Radwanska, Venus' next foe. Oudin's parents, Leslie and John, flew in from Georgia to attend.

Radwanska mirrors Oudin's clever style and, at 20 years old, has a tad more experience. She used countless drop shots and altered her game, frequently venturing to the net.

Despite the loss, Oudin is still the youngest American to reach the fourth round at Wimbledon since Jennifer Capriati in 1993.

Onward and upward.

"I'm, like, disappointed I lost," the former junior No. 2 said. "But, I mean, I'm very proud of myself how I did here. I think it's just like another step I'm taking."

The journey continues for the usual U.S. suspects.