Venus dresses down Schiavone
NEW YORK -- Nobody does out-of-the box better than Venus Williams.
Ten years ago, she missed the first four months of the season with tendinitis (in both wrists), struggled mightily on clay and then -- poof! -- she went on a 35-match winning streak, lifting the trophies at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. After crashing out in the third round on the gnarly red clay at Roland Garros in 2005, 2007 and 2008 she went back home to Florida. Playing zero matches as preparation, she won the titles at Wimbledon.
Those were her last major victories, but the pattern is emerging again. After losing in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, a Venus was out of action for nearly three months thanks to a balky left knee. What did she do? Just rolled into the National Tennis Center here and won her first five matches.
You get the idea she could step out of a moving car and, with a degree of poise, stay on her feet. Perhaps even toss off her measured Miss America, post-victory wave.
This is impressive, because, hey, Venus isn't the 17-year-old girl with spectacular beaded cornrows who slashed her way into the final in 1997. She's 30 years old and, after making the semifinals or better each of the first six visits here, she's through to the semifinals for only the second time in seven years.
It wasn't nearly as easy as the ho-hum 7-6 (5), 6-4 victory over French Open champion Francesca Schiavone on Tuesday night might suggest. Not hardly. The last scheduled day match spilled more than an hour into the night session and lasted six minutes shy of two hours.
Venus will play No. 2 seed Kim Clijsters in what promises to be a high-strung Thursday semifinal match.
Not bad for a pair of 30-year-olds; Venus and Schiavone represented the first all-30-something major quarterfinal since 16 years ago, when Gigi Fernandez beat Zina Garrison in straight sets.
In Arthur Ashe Stadium, Venus couldn't even properly warm up her serve because the wind was gusting close to 20 mph.
"I thought, 'Oh, my god, what are we in for today?'" Venus said. "I'm a strong player, and I hit hard, but I felt like I had nothing."
It was a pleasing contrast in styles, with the No. 3-seeded Venus hitting bombs from both sides, while No. 6 Schiavone scrambled and scraped and sliced her way into points.
Before the match, Nick Bollettieri, who has coached Venus over the years, had this advice: "Venus has got to come forward. That Italian girl can kill you with all those slices."
This she did, consistently moving forward and winning 18 of 33 points at the front of the court.
The first game turned out to be the match in microcosm, with Venus breaking Schiavone -- it lasted eight minutes and saw five deuces and 16 total points. And then Schiavone won the next two games with her usual racket wizardry, but fell in the tiebreaker after losing the first four points -- and winning the next four. She sprayed a forehand long and fired a ball into the stands in anger.
The second set was a break-fest, but Schiavone -- who was broken five times (to four for Venus) -- just couldn't compensate for a serve that averaged 15 mph less than Venus'.
"I think today she served good, and with more wind she has more chance than me. Because when I was serving against the wind, I am [5-foot-5½], and I try to push as much as I could. But is not like [6-1] Venus -- she serve on second floor and with the big power.
"So it's OK. It's not OK, but it's OK."
Said Venus, "I don't think either of us were able to play our exact normal game because it was just hard to make a choice in the wind. I think you end up playing a little safer, more toward the center of the court.
"But I feel like when the stakes were higher I was able to raise my game. She did, too. She played some great points. She's just so feisty that you have to kind of keep her at bay."
The fall line of Venus' EleVen clothing line has been on display here at the U.S. Open, causing a sensation when Venus strips off her warm-up jacket before the first point. She has shown some startling variety (and brevity) and, as it turns out, Venus is a shrewd planner. She has seven different outfits hanging in her Manhattan hotel room -- one for each match required to win the title.
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So far, we've seen: (1) a black gown with a flapper fringe; (2) a patterned black-and-white top with black compression shorts; (3) a clingy black dress with swirling silver spangles; (4) a raspberry tank top with black shorts; and, against Schiavone, (5) a shocking pink dress with those spangles.
Not that we were really paying attention.
Schiavone has now lost all eight of her career matches against Venus, but afterward she was, well, feisty to use Venus' word.
"Is a lot of disappoint[ing], because I have the chance and the quality really to beat her, because she doesn't like to play with me," Schiavone said. "I play different ball; I push her in defense; I don't give her the chance to play how she want, so every time I think we have a big fight."
Venus, later apprised of those comments, seemed bemused.
"I like seeing my name next to her name," she said, smiling. "I'm good with that."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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