With Mauresmo out, Venus looks to make move

Venus Williams advanced to the quarterfinals of the French Open Sunday. Whit Sheppard writes that the five-time Grand Slam champion may have one more major title in her.

Updated: June 4, 2006, 5:45 PM ET
By Whit Sheppard | Special to ESPN.com

PARIS -- Sometimes it's hard to tell whether Venus Williams thinks she's on a tennis court on the game's biggest stages or on an interior decorating walk-through.

The five-time major champion is the proud proprietress of V Starr Interiors, an interior design company that specializes in residential design projects. Any good decorator would tell you that it's essential to stroll around and get a good look at a space to have an idea of what's possible.

Sunday, in a fourth-round match at the French Open, Williams, the 11th seed, took a leisurely first-set stroll against No. 7 Patty Schnyder of Switzerland before winning 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 to set up a quarterfinal matchup with No. 16 Nicole Vaidisova. Vaidisova stunned No. 1 seed Amélie Mauresmo in three sets shortly after Williams advanced.

Williams only held her serve once in the opening set and committed 19 unforced errors against just three for Schnyder. Her chances of maintaining the American presence at Roland Garros didn't look great, but then neither did the 0-4 first-set deficits in her first- and second-round matches, both of which she managed to go on to win in straight sets.

"I prefer to get a shotgun start, take off real fast, fly to the moon, you know, from the first point," Williams said afterward. "That's definitely my style. [Didn't] start off like that today.

"I will do better. I have to."

Williams, 25, was the lone U.S. women's representative in the round of 16 here, the first time that's happened since 1994, and one of only two Americans still alive in the tournament coming into today's play. James Blake joined her in the third round but lost in five sets to Frenchman Gael Monfils in the preceding match on Court 1.

After rebounding to take the second set, Williams powered through the final set and forced a forehand error from the Swiss on her first match point.

Schnyder, 27, a petite left-hander who's dwarfed by Williams, dropped to 0-8 lifetime against Venus. She says it's fairly predictable but certainly not easy to play against her.

"It's always kind of the same in our matches," Schnyder said. "She comes out hitting everything and she misses some but there's always a point where she backs off a little bit and plays a little more safe and fights for all the points.

"She's such a great champion and she's so early with the ball and puts so much pressure with her presence and it's really tough to play against her."

Williams confirmed Schnyder's hypothesis, without prompting, in her own press conference.

"During the second set, I was thinking, 'Wow, Venus, you're going to have to pull in the reins and start from there, kind of get a good rhythm [going], then start to play more aggressively.'

"I do like to play fast if I have the opportunity, think I was just going for too much too quick. I definitely had to take some steps back today to go forward."

Next up for Venus is 17-year-old "It" girl Vaidisova, from the Czech Republic, who shocked Mauresmo, 6-7 (5), 6-1, 6-2 and a partisan French crowd that's become accustomed to traveling a rocky road with the longtime French No. 1 at her home Grand Slam.

"I'm excited," said Vaidisova, a tall, striking all-court player with a huge future ahead of her. "I never beat Amélie, never beat a No. 1 player, never made it to the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam."

Williams was asked before the completion of the Mauresmo-Vaidisova match whom she'd rather face in her Tuesday quarterfinal. "It would be nice to play Mauresmo. But, you know, I've done my job by getting to the next round. That's all I can do."

As for the prospect of playing Vaidisova, she had this to say: "I've only played her once about a year ago (a win on clay in Istanbul). I'm sure she's improved her game since.

"We have a very similar game [but] when you match us up together, I probably can inch her out on doing things a little better. I have to rely on doing that."

Whit Sheppard is a Paris-based sportswriter who is covering the French Open and Wimbledon for ESPN.com. He can be e-mailed at lobsandvolleys@yahoo.com.