Wednesday, January 26, 2005
Serena heads into semifinal as the underdog
By Cynthia Faulkner ESPN.com
Serena Williams has had enough.
She's had enough of people saying she and her sister are on the decline. She's had enough of people not remembering she's rebuilding after surgery. She's had enough of people forgetting what a tough time her family had in the past year. More than enough.
"I'm tired of not saying anything, but that's not fair," she said in a media session after defeating Amelie Mauresmo 6-2, 6-2 in the quarterfinals at the Australian Open. "We've been practicing really hard. We've had some serious injuries. I mean, I've had surgery. And after surgery, I got to the finals of Wimbledon. I don't know too many people that have done that."
She neglected to mention that she won her first tournament back after the eight-month layoff -- in Miami, which just happens to be the largest event after the four majors.
"And to top it off, we have a very, very, very, very, very close family," Serena said in reference to the shooting of half-sister Yetunde Price and subsequent court proceedings. "To be in some situations that we've been placed in the past little over a year, it's not easy to come out and just perform at your best when you realize there are so many things that are so important.
"So, no, we're not declining. We're here. I don't have to win this tournament to prove anything. I know that I'm out here and I know that I'm one of the best players out here."
But can she stop the rise of No. 4 Maria Sharapova when they meet in Wednesday night's semifinal (ESPN2, 9:30 ET)? It's been a while since Serena Williams, seeded seventh, came into a major semifinal as the lower-ranked player and with a losing head-to-head record.
Sharapova has a 2-1 record against Serena. After Sharapova lost her first match to Serena in Miami in straight sets, Sharapova hasn't looked back. She shocked Serena in the Wimbledon final 6-1, 6-4. In November, Serena fell to Sharapova at the WTA Championships final 4-6, 6-2, 6-4.
"To be honest, I feel like I don't have anything to lose," Serena said. "I think I was way too nervous at Wimbledon. I couldn't sleep, I couldn't breathe. Sometimes you want it too bad that you just freak yourself out.
"So now I feel fine. I feel like I just -- I'm really proud of myself, doing pretty well with my preparation here."
While that Wimbledon final signaled a change for Serena it also served as one for Sharapova.
"Definitely when I play top players, when I play seeded players, I know that, you know, I'm No. 4 in the world and when they see me in the draw they don't say, 'Well, I really wanted to play her.' " Sharapova said in a media session. "So, you know, I feel a bit of confidence in myself that I know that even if I'm playing, you know, a seeded player, somebody that's been on a roll, I know that I'm, you know, I've been in those situations as well and I know what to do and I feel more experienced."
She's still 17, so in between matches she spends her time working on schoolwork. Her age also means something else -- she plays a limited schedule until she turns 18 in April. She's No. 4 in the world and only playing part time.
And she could be ranked higher. The winner of this match will move up to No. 3 on Monday when the rankings are released. And if either player were to face Lindsay Davenport in the final and defeat her, they could become No. 2 in the world.
"We both kind of have it in our grasp and we're both going to be going out there and fighting," Serena said. "We'll see."
It seems likely that they might get that shot at the No. 2 ranking. No. 1 Lindsay Davenport takes the court after the Serena-Sharapova semifinal against Frenchwoman Nathalie Dechy. Davenport holds a 5-0 record against her, including a straight sets victory in Sydney recently.
"I (played) her in Sydney last week and I was already playing well," Dechy said. "So I think from two weeks ago I improved. And it's such a great lady and such a great champion that I'm really happy to play against her in semifinal."
The one advantage that Dechy might have is that although they both played 2 hour, 33 minute quarterfinals in scorching heat, Davenport went out afterward and won a doubles semifinal with partner Corina Morariu.
Still, Davenport remembers what it was like to hoist the Australian Open trophy in 2000 -- her last major title.
"I do remember what it felt like," she said after defeating Alicia Molik 6-4, 4-6, 9-7. "And it still feels like it's miles away, if not farther, after today."
Cynthia Faulkner is the tennis editor for ESPN.com.