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Status Quo Is Shaken by Young Russians at French Open
June 2 2003
The New York Times

Serena Williams could be holding up her latest Grand Slam trophy later this week at Roland Garros, but her older sister Venus will not be on the podium beside her to play the now-customary role of graceful loser.

Venus Williams was knocked out of the French Open today, losing in the fourth round to an 18-year-old Russian, Vera Zvonareva.

Though Williams bore little resemblance to the imperious, serve-slamming champion who dominated the women's game before Serena took charge, Zvonareva handled the moment, and Venus's baseline power, too well for her 2-6, 6-2, 6-4 victory to have been a fluke.

The upset means there will be no fifth consecutive all-Williams final in a Grand Slam event, and it was not the only surprise engineered today by a young, apparently nerve-free Russian. Little more than an hour after Zvonareva beat the third-seeded Williams, one of her childhood rivals in Moscow, Nadia Petrova, defeated another American star, seventh-seeded Jennifer Capriati.

Just last month, Capriati beat Petrova in straight sets in the Round of 16 in the Italian Open, but the 76th-ranked Petrova was a much more confident, tenacious player in this Round of 16. She shook off an early break of serve in the third set and won six of the final seven games to close out a 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 victory.

It was a day for jangling the hierarchy, and Americans were the primary victims, with No. 6-seeded Lindsay Davenport forced to abandon her match against the Spanish veteran Conchita Mart?nez because of an injured toe while trailing, 4-6, 0-2. The two Americans who did reach the quarterfinals were No. 1-seeded Serena Willliams, who defeated Ai Sugiyama of Japan, 7-5, 6-3, and No. 8 Chanda Rubin, who defeated Petra Mandula of Hungary, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5.

Venus Williams, whose clay-court season was curtailed by a strained abdominal muscle sustained on May 4, played poorly, double-faulting 12 times, hitting only 4 service winners and making 75 unforced errors. She even got booed by the French crowd as she walked off the court after declining a television interview.

"I don't think I had the kind of preparation I wanted," Williams said. "And I felt that I had to try to compensate in other areas, whereas normally I could be playing freely and swinging freely and just be completely ready."

Capriati, who won the French Open in 2001, looked much more fit and eager, but the lack of variety in her game cost her as Petrova showed off her own by winning 17 of 25 points at the net. "This is the best I've seen her play," Capriati said. "Everything was going her way, and if she can keep playing like that, she can go pretty far in the tournament."

Petrova's father, Viktor Petrov, was a hammer thrower in the Soviet Union. Her mother, Nadejda Ilina, won a bronze medal at the 1976 Olympics in the 400-meter relay. Petrova appeared poised for prominence when she reached the fourth round at the French Open and Wimbledon in 2001, but an injury to her left foot ruined her season last year and knocked her out of the top 100.

Now, at 20, she is in her first Grand Slam quarterfinal. To go further, she must get past Zvonareva, who lists her most memorable experience as losing to Petrova, 6-0, 6-0, at age 8. Shortly after that, Petrova left Moscow for Cairo, where her father coached track and field for three years.

Zvonareva has also been on the move. Though based in Moscow, she sometimes trains in College Park, Md., where her coach, Julia Kashevarova, works at a junior tennis center, and Zvonareva says she occasionally practices with the University of Maryland men's team.

A year ago, after qualifying here, Zvonareva took the first set from Serena Williams in the fourth round before fading in a hurry. This year, she arrived in Paris seeded No. 22, having won a minor clay-court event in Croatia and having beaten top-20 players like Meghann Shaugnessy, Patty Schnyder and Anastasiya Myskina this season.

But she had never defeated anyone of Venus Williams's stature. After losing the first set, Zvonareva quickly got her bearings and began to show off her speed, compact game and tactical precocity.

"If you go to the court and don't believe you can win, you will never do this," Zvonareva said. "I was believing that I was confident I could do this, but only in the case I would play my best tennis. I think I did it."

After breaking Williams's serve at 4-4 in the final set, Zvonareva won four of the five baseline rallies in the next game and capitalized on her first match point. Petrova also needed only one match point.


"They both have no fear," said the veteran coach Eric Van Harpen, who has worked with Mart?nez, among others. "They aren't like some of these young players who are afraid to win."

Am?lie Mauresmo once looked that way at Roland Garros, but she has projected more confidence this year. She advanced to a much-anticipated quarterfinal with Serena Williams by defeating the dangerous Spanish left-hander Magui Serna, 6-1, 6-2. Mauresmo beat Serena Williams for the first time in six attempts last month in the semifinals at the Italian Open and is the only player to have beaten both Williams sisters this year.

Though Serena Williams flirted with ruthless perfection in her 6-0, 6-0 victory over Barbara Schett of Austria in the third round, she was not as cocksure against Sugiyama, falling behind by 2-4 in the opening set before recovering. "I was just a little off; no need to worry," she said.

The Belgian stars Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne needed three sets to win. Clijsters got the biggest scare, dropping the first set, 0-6, to the Bulgarian veteran Magdalena Maleeva as she put just 43 percent of her first serves in play, double-faulted 4 times and made 22 unforced errors. But Clijsters recovered to close out the match, 6-2, 6-1.

Henin-Hardenne also lost a set before defeating Schnyder, 6-3, 2-6, 6-2, which made for a much happier 21st birthday for Henin-Hardenne. She now faces Rubin, who defeated her in straight sets in March in the quarterfinals in Key Biscayne, Fla. But Henin-Hardenne will be the favorite on clay, which remains her preferred surface.
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