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Cat fight, French Open style

Serena Williams blows match, angers Sanchez Vicario

Posted: Sunday May 31, 1998 05:57 PM

  Serena Williams was playing in just her second tournament on clay (Clive Brunskill/Allsport)

PARIS (AP) -- Two points. That's all Serena Williams needed for the biggest victory of her tender tennis career and a place in the French Open quarterfinals with older sister Venus.

She never got them.

Instead, Williams blew a contentious match Sunday that left Arantxa Sanchez Vicario accusing the 16-year-old American of trying to hit her in the head with a shot and of lacking respect for her opponent.

Sanchez Vicario rallied to win 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 in a fist-pumping battle featuring glares across the net, an unusual dress change and a slam by Williams that nearly beheaded the Spaniard.

Williams accused her opponent of changing from a black outfit to a white one midway through the second set as a strategic move, while Sanchez Vicario was upset at Williams' attitude after a controversial point in the first set.

"I just think she doesn't have respect. She cannot go in with that attitude," Sanchez Vicario said. "You know, I'm glad that I beat her. That's the thing -- I taught her a lesson."

Venus Williams advanced to a quarterfinal against top-seeded Martina Hingis, a rivalry quickly becoming one of the best in women's sports.

The eighth-seeded Venus Williams won the first 11 points and slammed seven aces -- two at 116 mph -- while winning 6-1, 6-3 over Henrieta Nagyova of Slovakia.

Hingis was a 6-1, 6-2 winner over Anna Smashnova of Israel in a match between former French Open junior champions.

Venus Williams has lost just 13 games in her four matches at the French Open, just her fourth tournament on clay. Hingis has lost 14 games in her four matches.

Hingis holds a 5-2 record against Williams, but they are 2-2 this year. Their only previous meeting on clay was three weeks ago in the Italian Open final, with Hingis winning in three sets.

Sanchez Vicario will face Patty Schnyder in the quarterfinals. No. 2 Lindsay Davenport and No. 6 Monica Seles also advanced to the quarters.

Davenport will face No. 7 Conchita Martinez or defending champion Iva Majoli, who were tied at a set apiece when darkness halted play Sunday night.

Seles will face No. 3 Jana Novotna or No. 13 Anna Kournikova. Novotna led 7-6 (7-2) 3-6, 4-2 when play was halted at Novotna's request. That left Kournikova in tears because she earlier made the same request, but was denied.

Seles, a three-time champion who never has lost before the quarterfinals in Paris, won 6-1, 6-4 over Chanda Rubin.

With Venus Williams, Davenport and Seles advancing, more American women are in the quarterfinals than in any French Open since 1986.

No U.S. man made it through the third round, the worst showing in a Grand Slam event in at least 30 years.

Serena Williams was playing in just her second tournament on clay, having lost to Venus in the Italian Open quarters.

Sanchez Vicario will face Patty Schnyder in the quarterfinals (AP) 

She ousted No. 15 Dominique Van Roost with a muscular display Saturday, but No. 4 Sanchez Vicario is a master of strategy who thrives against powerful players.

Yet Williams overwhelmed Sanchez Vicario for most of the first two sets Sunday, standing inside the baseline to return the Spaniard's first serves and slamming backhand winners past her.

Williams, slapping her left thigh to spur herself between points, even added a few drop shots and a feathery lob over her opponent's head.

The most dramatic point came late in the first set, one point after Williams got to deuce by slamming a lob past Sanchez Vicario and punctuating it with a glare.

The following point ended with Williams volleying over a prone Sanchez Vicario. But the Spaniard argued that the ball had bounced twice before one of Williams' shots.

Williams and Sanchez Vicario met at the net. Williams said she told her opponent, "Arantxa, Arantxa, one bounce, one bounce." But Sanchez Vicario said she didn't like the way Williams talked to her.

"She came to the net talking very aggressively," Sanchez Vicario said. "I don't think she can act that way. I don't think it's nice at all."

Williams wrapped up the first set on the next point, pumping her fist while Sanchez Vicario slammed her racket.

"Every time I see her play a match, she always argues about almost every call," Williams said. "If she didn't do that, then I would have been a little surprised because she argues a lot."

The second set featured one game that included seven deuces, and Sanchez Vicario's three-minute outfit change while trailing 3-2. The Spaniard said she changed because her outfit was sweaty and uncomfortable, but Williams didn't buy that argument.

"I think she thought the white dress would be a better tactic against me, so it proved to be," she said.

Williams lost the first three points after that delay, but came back to win the next two games and lead 5-2. She got to 30-30 on Sanchez Vicario's serve -- two points from the match -- but lost the next two points.

In the next game, serving for the match at 5-3, Williams was three points from the match. But she lost the next three points and dropped 15 of the last 21 in the set as Sanchez Vicario won four straight games and the set.

Williams never seemed to regain confidence. In the second game of the third set, she leaned on her racket like a crutch after losing a point.

As Williams made repeated unforced errors, including an easy putaway at the net, Sanchez Vicario took a 4-2 lead. In the seventh game, with both players at the net, Williams slammed a shot just past her opponent's left ear and landed far out.

"She went to hit me. I was lucky that I went to the other side. It just passed me," Sanchez Vicario said. "She just started laughing, looking at me badly."

Rain was falling and the wind was whipping flags when the match ended two games later. Williams' next singles match will be as a spectator at Venus' quarterfinal.

"I'm only 16, my first Roland Garros," she said. "Everything is a learning experience for me."

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