American women like their chances

Updated: May 30, 2004, 5:51 PM ET
By Greg Garber | ESPN.com

PARIS -- Serena Williams, teeth bared and muscles bulging, sprinted to the net and slammed an overhead. Shinobu Asagoe, who was standing in its path, lunged out of the way. Her glare betrayed a trace of amazement.

Serena Williams
While people tend to focus more on her fashion, Serena Williams has a tendency to intimidate.

While people tend to focus more on her fashion, Williams has a tendency to intimidate. After losing the first two games to Asagoe, Williams found traction and won 12 of the last 14.

"First thing she said," said Asagoe's translator, "[Serena]'s big and automatically she feel a little pressure when she saw her." Asagoe might not be the only one. French favorite Amelie Mauresmo continues to sail through the sparsely populated top half of the draw -- she thrashed Magdalena Maleeva 6-2, 6-1 on Sunday -- but the bottom-heavy half of the draw should produce a worthy competitor.

There are three chances in four that it will be an American.

In Tuesday's quarterfinals, Williams will meet Jennifer Capriati, a 7-5, 6-1 winner over Francesca Schiavone. Venus Williams, a 6-1, 7-6 (3) winner over Fabiola Zuluaga, plays Russia's Anastasia Myskina.

There are a number of reasons to favor Serena Williams in this mix, but here is the best one: She has now won 44 of her past 45 Grand Slam matches. Knee surgery forced her to miss the past two major events, but she seems to be rounding into form.

Aside from an alarming propensity to stroll into her matches and lose her serve early, Serena has been playing better than anyone else in her half of the draw. Her entire match required 54 minutes, or four more minutes than Venus' second set, which was forced to a tiebreaker.

Venus won the first set easily but succumbed to boredom. She was down 0-2 in the tiebreaker, when she seemed to regain interest in the match. Venus won six straight points and, two points later, the match.

"It's nice," Venus said. "It's only eight left, so that's -- what are the odds? But I know I have a tough round next."

Capriati had similar issues in the first set with Schiavone. She was down to the Italian, 4-5, then won her game at love. She made it eight straight points by breaking Schiavone's serve and wrapped it up with a forehand winner.

Capriati was noticeably bothered by a mild thigh strain.

"I should be fine," Capriati said, "I'm used to pain. It's not really severe. Maybe I couldn't have gone a third set."

For the second straight year, Lindsay Davenport limped away from Roland Garros in the fourth round. A tweaked right knee -- she wasn't sure if it was a bruised bone or something more ominous -- was a factor in her 6-1, 6-3 loss to Russia's Elena Dementieva. Davenport said she injured the knee four days earlier and, after her retirement with a foot injury last year, felt compelled to finish the match, even with an awkward, lurching effort.

"It was just one of those things, 'Well, I retired here last year. I don't really want to retire two years in a row,' " she explained. "It's probably better to stop. It's probably a bad decision on my part, but I don't feel like I hurt it any worse the last three or four games.

"It's hard not knowing. Hopefully I'll probably know in 48 hours. I'll go home tonight and figure it out. I'll be extremely bummed if it means more time away."

Davenport, who turns 28 on June 8, has grown increasingly brittle. Her marriage last year brought with it talk of retirement and, eventually, a family.

Would it be too dramatic to say that Davenport is one major injury from the end of her career?

"Probably," she said. "I don't think this is like the six to eight months out. It's just so frustrating that you're just not given an opportunity physically one hundred percent out there."

The looming question on the women's sides: How close to 100 percent is Serena Williams? This is relevant because just over two weeks ago Capriati beat her in the semifinals at Rome.

It was 6-4, 6-4 and it ended an 0-for-8 streak for Capriati. Still, she had difficulty closing out the match after leading the last set 5-1.

"There are voices in my head that I'm trying to brush aside," Capriati told reporters in Rome. "I've lost to her so many times in a row. It's a personal victory for me."

On Sunday, Serena seemed to be looking forward to another meeting with Capriati.

"She won, so it will be a good match," said Serena. "We always go three sets -- it seems like it. It's always intense. The score line is really close. It can go one way or the other."

Capriati sounded confident she knew which way that would be.

"I prefer to play someone like Serena, rather than playing a real clay-courter on clay," Capriati said. "I feel if I can keep the balls in play, I should have the edge a little bit. Maybe she'll come up with the errors. The same thing that happened in Rome."

Unlike Asagoe, Capriati will not be intimidated.

"I have nothing to be afraid of," Capriati said. "I feel more comfortable being aggressive, I feel like I'm serving better. Right now I just feel like everything at this point is a bonus to me. There is no expectation on me anymore. Now, I'm playing great tennis. I wasn't sure I had it in me."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Greg Garber

Writer, Reporter
Greg Garber joined ESPN in 1991 and provides reports for NFL Countdown and SportsCenter. He is also a regular contributor to Outside the Lines and a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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