Serena survives pesky Peer

Updated: March 28, 2005, 10:20 AM ET
Associated Press

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- Struggling to finish off a stubborn opponent, Serena Williams hit a tentative volley that clipped the net cord and dribbled to the other side for a winner.

Tennis protocol required a wave of apology to acknowledge the lucky shot, but instead Williams flexed a fist and screamed at 17-year-old qualifier Shahar Peer.

"She was like very happy when she won some points," Peer said.

They didn't come easily. Three-time defending champion Williams needed 90 minutes to eliminate the scrappy Israeli 6-3, 6-3 in the third round of the Nasdaq-100 Open.

Of the 20 consecutive matches Williams has won at Key Biscayne, the latest ranked among the most grueling. Peer kept chasing down her shots, much to the delight of the stadium crowd.

"She was really gutsy," Williams said. "I wasn't used to playing a person like that. It was a totally different game for me. She gets a lot of balls back, and she doesn't hit with a lot of pace."

The pesky Peer is part of the newest generation poised to make an impact on the WTA Tour. Along with Grand Slam champions Maria Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia, there's Tatiana Golovin of France, Vera Douchevina of Russia, Nicole Vaidisova of the Czech Republic and Anna Tatishvili of Georgia.

Each is a teenager. Why is none from the United States?

"Everyone is interested in becoming a pop star, 'American Idol,' becoming another Beyonce and stuff," Williams said. "Maybe I got to up my image -- they'll want to become tennis players like me."

On another humid day, with temperatures reaching 87 degrees, the other top women moved quickly into the fourth round. Top-seeded Amelie Mauresmo, No. 2 Maria Sharapova, No. 8 Venus Williams, Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne won in straight sets.

No. 19 seed Henin-Hardenne, playing in her first tournament since the U.S. Open, needed just 58 minutes to beat Nuria Llagostera Vives 6-3, 6-2. Henin-Hardenne, a three-time Grand Slam champion, had been sidelined by a virus and knee injury.

Mauresmo defeated Anna Smashnova 6-2, 6-1, and Sharapova beat Marissa Irvin 6-2, 6-0. Three-time Key Biscayne champion Venus Williams beat Fabiola Zuluaga 6-2, 6-0, and Clijsters won her 10th match in a row, sweeping No. 12 Nathalie Dechy 6-0, 6-2.

Kuznetsova, No. 4 Elena Dementieva and No. 5 Anastasia Myskina -- all Russian -- advanced in straight sets. No. 11 Patty Schnyder lost to qualifier Catalina Castano 6-3, 2-6, 6-1.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press