Serena sole American left standing

PARIS -- There are 48 men and women left in the singles competitions at Roland Garros. Only one is an American.

There are, for example, eight Spanish and eight Russian players still alive and the sometimes tennis-challenged host country has a bounty of four. Even Italy (three) and Slovakia (two), of all places, have more than the vast nation that is the United States. And consider that residents (not necessarily citizens) of Geneva, Switzerland (Marion Bartoli, Amelie Mauresmo and Carlos Moya), Monte-Carlo, Monaco (Nikolay Davydenko, Dinara Safina and Jonas Bjorkman), and yes, Bradenton, Fla. (Jelena Jankovic and Maria Sharapova), outnumber U.S. natives.

When Venus Williams disappeared in the third set early Friday against Jankovic, her sister Serena was the last American standing. She's safe in the round of 16, but it was a struggle against Michaella Krajicek of the Netherlands.

With the rain-spattered French crowd at Court Suzanne Lenglen rooting hard against her, Serena managed to beat the spiky-haired, black-socks-wearing teenager, 6-3, 6-4. Afterward, Serena was asked if she had played her best. She looked blankly at the questioner.

"I don't think I played well at all, actually," she said. "I don't want to peak too soon, but at some point I have to start playing better."

And that's from the survivor.

When it comes to playing tennis on clay, the United States has become a third-rate power. Put them in the B bracket, along with countries like Cyprus (Marcos Baghdatis), Israel (Shahar Peer), Finland (Jarkko Nieminen) and Romania (qualifier Ioana Raluca Olaru) -- countries that also have one player left in the men's and women's singles draws.

Williams' progression to the fourth round is hardly a surprise. She is the reigning Australian Open champion and has won more Grand Slam singles titles (eight) than anyone here not named Roger Federer. At 25, she is healthy and motivated and on track to participate in all four Grand Slam tournaments for the first time in six years.

It was less than a year ago (July 10, 2006) when Williams' ranking plummeted to No. 140 -- the lowest since she joined the WTA Tour. An injury to her left knee sidelined her for six months and she finished the year ranked No. 95.

The 2007 season has produced a spectacular comeback. Williams has won 21 of 24 matches and is the only woman to win more than $1 million so far. Her current ranking (No. 8) placed her in a comfortable part of the draw, where she won't see a dangerous player until the quarterfinals (No. 1 seed Justine Henin). Sister Venus' No. 26 seed hastened her departure, because it forced her into a third-round confrontation with Jankovic, the No. 4 seed.

When the first game of the match ended with three consecutive booming winners, it looked like Serena was going to have an easy time with Krajicek. It didn't quite materialize that way.

Krajicek, 18, is better known for being the sister of 1996 Wimbledon champion Richard Krajicek. Coming into the match, she had lost more matches (12) than she had won (10), but her strokes are big enough to keep her in most matches. Make no mistake, she was in this one.

Krajicek was serving to level the first set at 4-all, when she hit a second serve too hard (and too long) and gave Williams a 5-3 margin. Krajicek actually held a break point, but Williams' backhand winner bailed her out. With the crowd behind her, Krajicek saved two set points before Williams won the set when the Dutch player's service return sailed long.

Finally, with Krajicek serving for a 4-3 lead in the second set, Serena asserted herself. She broke Krajicek at love and took control of the match. When Krajicek's service return slid past the baseline, Williams pumped her first a few times and received an acknowledgement from father Richard.

Next in line is the aforementioned Monte-Carlo resident, Safina, who advanced with a three-set victory over Francesca Schiavone.

Serena said she didn't watch her sister's loss earlier in the day. She didn't want to get too involved, she said, before her match. Instead, she watched some "Law & Order" episodes on her computer.

With Jennifer Capriati and Andre Agassi absent from the scene, Serena is the only active American player to have won on the red clay at Roland Garros. She was asked if she had a theory about the failure of Americans in Paris.

"I don't know," Serena said, "maybe it's mental. For me, it's another tournament. I'm here to play tennis. I don't care if it's on clay or grass or hard court or mud -- I'm here competing and I'm going to do whatever it takes to win."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.