Serena advances to quarterfinals

Updated: March 30, 2004, 2:12 AM ET
Associated Press

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- Serena Williams made her latest fashion statement and offered some eye-popping tennis as well Monday.

Playing her third match following an eight-month layoff, Williams overpowered 16-year-old Maria Sharapova 6-4, 6-3 to reach the quarterfinals of the Nasdaq-100 Open.

"You don't understand how happy I am just to be out here competing," Williams said.

She smacked nine aces and 26 winners, including one backhand that sounded as though it had been struck with a baseball bat. She also created a buzz with her newest attire.

Gone was the much-discussed corset dress of the earlier rounds, replaced by a revealing two-piece outfit with a fitted tank top, bare midriff, hot pants, navel jewelry and chandelier earrings.

"This is my Wonder Woman outfit," Williams said. "I feel real powerful in this suit, like a superhero."

Sharapova gave the outfit a favorable review. So did Williams' father and coach, Richard.

"I loved it," he said. "She didn't look like she was going to a tennis match. She looked like she was going to the beach to get a suntan."

Accenting the bold ensemble were some of the game's most ferocious strokes. After a slow start, the top-seeded Williams began to blast away, and Sharapova could only watch and shake her head as shots whizzed past.

"She has so much power," Sharapova said. "She's a very strong lady."

Williams' quarterfinal opponent will be fellow American Jill Craybas, who rallied to upset No. 9 Paola Suarez 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (2). No. 29 Karolina Sprem eliminated No. 10 Svetlana Kuznetsova 3-6,

No. 2 Venus Williams beat No. 15 Francesca Schiavone 6-1, 6-3 and faces No. 5 Elena Dementieva on Wednesday. 7-5, 6-4.

On the men's side, Andy Roddick and six-time champion Andre Agassi remained on course for a semifinal showdown by advancing to the fourth round.

Roddick, seeded second, beat No. 26 Jonas Bjorkman in a potential Davis Cup preview, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. The U.S. team plays Sweden in the quarterfinals April 9-11 at Delray Beach, Fla.

"Obviously, you can't help but think forward a couple of weeks to the Davis Cup," Roddick said. "But winning tonight really doesn't do anything to help our chances."

Agassi, seeded fourth, committed just five unforced errors and beat Max Mirnyi 6-2, 6-2 in 53 minutes.

"Days like this are few and far between," Agassi said. "So I definitely feel great about the performance."

Agassi's opponent Tuesday will be No. 20 Agustin Calleri.

Vince Spadea, staging a career comeback at age 29, shrugged off his failure to make the U.S. Davis Cup team Monday and edged Radek Stepanek 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (3). U.S. captain Patrick McEnroe picked Mardy Fish for the squad over Spadea, who won the first tournament title of his career this month in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Spadea learned of the decision before his match, when McEnroe contacted him.

"He's taking notice that I'm making a good comeback and have a good streak going here," Spadea said. "I wasn't expecting him to put me on the team, so it wasn't a huge (letdown)."

Three weeks shy of her 17th birthday, Sharapova has already won two tournament titles and climbed to 23rd in the rankings, but she came up short trying to match Williams' thunderous strokes. Three aces gave Williams the final game of the first set, and she won eight of the next nine points to take charge of the second set.

Richard Williams praised Sharapova's talent but said the Russian made a tactical error by hitting every shot hard.

"That's not going to work against Serena," Williams said. "You've got to give her soft balls -- deep, but not so hard."

The victory was Williams' 15th in a row at Key Biscayne, where she has won the title the past two years. The tournament is her first since undergoing knee surgery after winning Wimbledon in July.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press