Venus: I couldn't focus enough
PARIS -- It was merely a single point among 120, but it revealed Venus Williams' tenuous state of mind.
Anastasia Myskina had just stroked a ball that was hurtling on the fly past Williams, who was standing just behind the baseline. Williams reached down, almost absent-mindedly, and backhanded the ball -- headed at least two or three feet long -- all the way over Myskina's baseline. Venus, what happened?
"I couldn't decide," she said later. "So when in doubt, you have to hit it."
Indecision and doubt -- not the things you want running through your brain when you're in a Grand Slam quarterfinal -- especially for a ball that was clearly out.
And that's where Venus and her younger sister Serena find themselves with respect to the 2004 French Open.
"We're going to pack our bags and leave," Venus said. "There's nothing left for us here anymore."
Minutes after Jennifer Capriati had knocked Serena, the No. 2 seed out of the tournament 6-3, 2-6, 6-3, Myskina took out No. 4-seeded Venus, 6-3, 6-4. It was the first time in their careers that the sisters lost on the same day.
And it isn't often that you will see the sisters drawn and quartered before they reach the semifinals. The last time they both played a Grand Slam event and one of them failed to make at least the semifinals was the 2001 French Open. Certainly, clay does not become their powerful games, but they both reached the 2002 final here, with Serena winning the title.
Venus was in the second set with Myskina on Court Suzanne Lenglen when Serena lost to Capriati on Court Philippe Chatrier. Did she see the score?
"I try not to look at the scoreboard," Venus said, who seemed close to tears.
So she didn't see the score?
"That didn't mean I didn't, no," she said, smiling.
"I saw the score periodically, but I tried to pretty much focus on my match," she said.
"Even I couldn't focus enough today."
Before she sprained her ankle in the semifinals at Hamburg three weeks ago, Venus was the favorite for the French title. She won on the clay in Charleston and Warsaw, but defaulted before her German Open final with Mauresmo. Before the tournament began, Venus -- who missed five months last year with a torn abdominal muscle that she played with here at the French and at Wimbledon -- admitted the ankle still bothered her and left her tentative in her footing. Serena, who missed eight months following knee surgery, was physically healthier but hadn't played many matches.
"I think both of us would have liked to have had a better preparation for the event," Venus said. "I feel like I was fortunate that I was able to play because I had so many issues before. It's a shame that two years in a row I've had these conditions.
"Absolutely, I don't think she beat me today. Normally, against this kind of game, I'm going to really do well against her because she couldn't really hurt me."
Venus' ankle didn't seem to be a factor in her first four matches, all straight-sets affairs, leaving her with a streak of 19 consecutive wins on clay. Myskina, who had lost both previous matches against her, was not impressed. It was 4-0 before Williams broke Myskina's serve to climb temporarily back into the match.
Myskina, an exotic-looking Russian with a cool demeanor, never wavered. She held her last two serves to take the first set and broke Williams at 3-all in the second for the decisive advantage.
To underline Myskina's accomplishment: consider that Williams has been to a dozen Grand Slam semifinals, while this was the 22-year-old's first. Her best previous results were quarterfinal appearances in last year's Australian Open and U.S. Open and this year's Australian Open.
"I think Venus not really right now in her best level," Myskina said. "I knew that I can beat her. Usually, Venus like to make winners; today was much more unforced errors."
Myskina had 13 unforced errors, while Williams had 43.
The Williamses, for their part, head home for Florida. They have three weeks to prepare for Wimbledon, where they both reached the final last year.
The inactivity due to her abdominal injury dropped Venus out of the top 10 last season for the first time since 1998. And now Serena, due to her long period of inactivity, will fall out for the first time since 1999.
"For me, losing matches is not normal," Venus said. "So I'll just move on to the next tournament and get back to what's normal for me, which is winning matches."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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