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Williams sisters lead American charge at French Open
Sat May 31, 2:18 PM ET Add U.S. National - AFP to My Yahoo!

PARIS (AFP) - The Williams sisters Serena and Venus have led a Stars and Stripes charge into the French Open (news - web sites) women's singles last 16 with five Americans in the mix.

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They were joined by Lindsay Davenport, Jennifer Capriati and Chanda Rubin.

And with those five starting favourites in the fourth round against lesser-ranked opponents it could be five out of eight for the United States in the quarter-finals.

It's all in stark contrast to the American men who are having for a second straight year a miserable time of it with only second seed Andre Agassi left to defend the colours.

After the Americans it is the Spanish, Belgians and Russians who are best represented in the last 16 with two each.

All top eight seeds are still standing, while three unseeded players made it through the three rounds completed so far.

Title-holder and top seed Serena takes on 16th seed Ai Sugiyama of Japan, while Venus goes up against Russian teenager Vera Zvonareva.

Going for a sixth consecutive Grand Slam title win, Serena has been imperial so far losing only eight games and sweeping to love her last opponent Barbara Schett of Austria.

But she is not alone in what has been a disappointingly one-sided women's tournament so far.

Both Clijsters and Capriati have breezed through for the loss of only nine games and of the big guns only Venus Williams (news - web sites) has had any difficult taking three sets to defeat Evie Dominikovic of Australia in the second round.

Things might get tougher from now on in.

Capriati for one has had problems with the rangy Petrova who rattled her at times in the third round of the Rome Masters earlier this month before the American won through 7-5, 6-3.

"She's got a big serve and she hits big shots off the ground. She moves pretty well for a big girl, I had a tough time breaking here the last time."

Venus Williams will also have to up her game another notch against Zvonareva.

The talented 18-year-old from Moscow who is an admirer of former men's champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov, reached the fourth round on her debut last year and took a set off Serena before bowing out.

"I was pretty tired after that one," she conceded. "This year I've a lot more confidence in myself - my technique is better than last year.

Serena takes on one of the wiliest performers on the women's circuit in Sugiyama, who is having one the best years of her career and has risen to a best-ever 15 in the world rankings.

But such has been the power of the American's play so far, it would take a huge upset for the sole remaining Asian player to reach the last eight.

The newly-wed Davenport says she does not harbour any great hopes of adding the French crown to the Australian, Wimbledon (news - web sites) and US Opens that she has already won.

"I consider myself an outsider. The other girls are much better than me on clay. Clay's not my favourite surface," she said after defeating French No 2 Nathalie Dechy.

But she should at least make the quarters as she goes up against veteran Spaniard Conchita Martinez, who despite something of a revival this year is still past her best.

The two Belgian threats Clijsters and Henin-Hardenne both have older and more experienced opponents in Magdalena Maleeva of Bulgaria and Patty Schnyder of Swizerland.

But they have both beaten their opponents recently and should make it through as the main threat to American hegemony.
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