- Greg Garber, Writer, Reporter
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NEW YORK -- Serena Williams, the sometime tennis player, has shown a talent for fashion design and acting. Now, if it is possible, she has an even higher calling.
"I became a doctor just recently," Williams said on Sunday. "I took my own doctor's advice."
Williams was kidding, of course -- she really hasn't finished her residency yet. She was serious, though, about the advice part. Ignoring the counsel of "like three" doctors, Williams is playing in this U.S. Open. This physician seems to have healed herself.
Williams missed eight months following knee surgery in August 2003, and her health has been a delicate issue of late. She withdrew from tournaments in California and Montreal, and then bailed out of the Olympics in Athens.
"I really fought hard," Williams said. "Took all the guts for me to pull out of the Olympics. I didn't really want to do that at all. But then I just, literally, every day getting myself better, ameliorating my leg."
Williams, apparently, is also considering a career in linguistics.
Her left knee, with all due respect to the amelioration process, had better be ready today. Williams meets long-time rival Jennifer Capriati in a highly anticipated quarterfinal match Tuesday.
"I believe that from now on, I don't believe what anybody says," Capriati said when told that Williams was playing against doctor's orders. "I just expect [opponents] to be 100 percent at their game. Because I really don't think anybody would be playing if they really didn't feel 100 percent. And that goes for me, too.
"So I will expect the best. Really, like I just can only worry about myself, my game."
It will be their 17th meeting. Lindsay Davenport and Venus Williams met for the 25th time on Monday, but the Serena Williams-Capriati matches, particularly in recent years, have been fraught with meaning. Four of their last five matches, including this one, have been Grand Slam matchups.
The first meeting in 1999 at the German Open went to Williams, then 17, but Capriati won the next four in her run of brilliance on the WTA Tour. Then Williams won the next eight in a row in her run of dominance.
With women's tennis open to suggestion -- all of the top players have an asterisk attached to their chances here -- they are playing on a more level field. Capriati ended Williams' spectacular run in Rome this spring, defeating her in a rare straight-sets match. She came back 17 days later and beat Williams again, this time in the quarterfinals of the French Open. Then, in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, Williams dropped the hammer, winning a 6-1, 6-1 match in 45 minutes -- the most one-sided meeting in their 16-match history.
"I was surprised," Williams said afterward.
Given the two previous results, so was everybody else. Their matches are always all-or-nothing bashfests, and in this one Williams was very nearly perfect. Capriati was perfectly awful.
Her season has been a curious one. Capriati has had some nice results, but she hasn't won a tournament; the last season she failed to win an event was 1998, the last year of her murky five-year sabbatical from the game. The modest decline in her game -- Williams' injury, clearly, was the biggest factor in her back-to-back losses -- can be traced to her spectacular exit at last year's U.S. Open.
Capriati was within two points of victory on 10 different occasions against Justine Henin-Hardenne in the semifinals. But she lost 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (4) in three hours and three minutes. It was the best match of the tournament, but that hardly comforted Capriati, who has gone a pedestrian -- for her, anyway -- 30-14 since.
"It's kind of history for me right now," Capriati explained on Sunday. "I had the match. I probably should have won. It was a great match for women's tennis -- next time just close it out and that's that."
Capriati and Williams don't expect any surprises.
"Pretty much expect the same thing," Capriati said. "Just feel like it's going to be like a bulldozer effect or, you know, it's just going to be like a lot of errors.
"I feel great. I feel like I'm playing well and my chances are very good."
Williams, for her part, said she was happy to be here at the National Tennis Center.
"I'm really proud of my legs," Williams said. "I'm just excited to be here because I wasn't supposed to come. I couldn't miss it for the world.
"I'm always ready. We always play each other. I'm sure the next tournament I'm in, I'll play her again."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
Serena Williams and Jennifer Capriati have one of the most unpredictable rivalries going in sports. They meet again Tuesday.