Finally, Serena Williams is back where she belongs

For six years now, Serena Williams has been an overbearing study in underachievement at Flushing Meadows. She has had legitimate alibis along the way, from injury to personal tragedy, but still the U.S. Open failures mounted, the stomping of sneakers didn't help, and there was no explaining all of this away. How does somebody of such obviously superior skills fail to reach so much as a semifinal at her home major, on a surface tailored to her ferocity? It is an issue she may not need to address for some time, because Williams has emerged again from the untalented masses of the WTA Tour, at long last. Serena can make a lot of ghosts and grumps disappear with one more victory here. She can capture her ninth major, her third Open title and the No. 1 ranking with one scoop of her racket. And then it will be hard for anyone to say that tennis' de facto monarch, the drama queen, is not living up to expectations. PHOTO GALLERY: THE BEST OF THE U.S. OPEN (VOL. 2)"Finally back in the final, for once," Serena said. "I feel like I just started again. I feel excited to be out there for every match." She gets this chance after a relatively straightforward semifinal victory in meandering breezes yesterday over Dinara Safina, 6-3, 6-2. The match had all the electricity of a run-down AAA battery. The only evidence of atmosphere inside Ashe Stadium was the swirling wind that caused a total of 11 double faults, 62 unforced errors and numerous aborted tosses by both players. Safina dashed off to a 2-love lead, before collapsing into a heap of ugly mistakes and loud, frustrated screeches. The only moment worth mentioning occurred in the third game of the second set, when Williams charged forward to slam a forehand into the body of Safina, standing still like an archery target in the middle of the court. "It was crazy," Williams said. "I didn't even see the ball. You just make any shot you can make. I was nearly mortified that I hit her." While Williams was busy Continue Reading

Serena Williams rolls to victory

MELBOURNE, Australia - Serena Williams' only hiccup in her four previous trips to the Australian Open was in the third round. The defending champion crossed that minor mental barrier on Friday with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Victoria Azarenka, improving her record to 26-1 at Melbourne Park since the start of 2003. Her third-round loss to Daniela Hantuchova in 2006 was sandwiched between two titles here. She also won in 2003, but skipped the 2004 tournament with injuries. Justine Henin, the 2004 champion, also continued an impressive run at Melbourne Park on Friday, beating 25th-seeded Francesca Schiavone 7-5, 6-4. It was her 31st consecutive match win and improved her record in Melbourne to 15-1 since '04. Williams, who was unseeded and ranked No. 1 when she beat then top-seeded Maria Sharapova here last year to claim her eighth Grand Slam title, fired 15 aces and had a stretch of seven service games in which she yielded only six points to Azarenka. Williams also was painting the lines with her groundstrokes, contributing to 29 winners. When she made her 25 unforced errors, it was usually was by a matter of inches. "I feel pretty good about where I am," she said. "Hopefully, I'll peak later in the tournament." Williams will face No. 12 Nicole Vaidisova, a 6-3, 6-4 winner over Japan's Ai Sugiyama 6-3, 6-4 in the fourth round. Williams had to save set points in a semifinal against Vaidisova here last year. "Obviously, it doesn't get much tougher than that," Vaidisova said of the fourth-round match against Williams. "She's a great champion, a great fighter. "I'll definitely have to have my A game on." No. 5 Sharapova beat one fellow Russian, Elena Vesnina 6-3, 6-0 on Friday, and faces another in the fourth round after No. 11 Elena Dementieva beat Israel's Shahar Peer 6-2, 6-0. Sharapova struggled early, getting broken twice, then ran off the last nine games to down Vesnina, who was in constant trouble on her own serve after holding in the first game. Continue Reading

Roger Federer, Serena Williams advance to fourth round at Wimbledon

WIMBLEDON, England - Roger Federer continued his march toward a sixth straight Wimbledon title by beating Marc Gicquel in straight sets Friday, setting up a fourth-round matchup with the last man to win the championship before him. Two-time women’s champion Serena Williams dispatched 2006 winner Amelie Mauresmo 7-6 (5), 6-1, extending her supremacy over the Frenchwoman to a career record 10-2. After the first rain delay of the tournament, Federer overwhelmed the 53rd-ranked Frenchman 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 on Centre Court for his 62nd consecutive win on grass and 37th straight at the All England Club. His next opponent will be Lleyton Hewitt, who won Wimbledon in 2002 - the year before the Swiss star began his run of five straight titles. Federer surprisingly dropped serve in the opening game. But he immediately broke back and was in control the rest of the way as he sailed to victory in 1 hour, 21 minutes. The rain delay before the match lasted longer - 1 hour, 41 minutes - the first rain of the tournament. “Again, difficult conditions, tricky opponent,” Federer said. “The wind was swirling. I got down a break in the first game and had to rally back. I played really well throughout the match considering the circumstances.” Federer hasn’t dropped a set so far in the tournament. “It’s always nice,” he said. “Couple of days off now. Hope I play as well next week. It’s important to try to keep the game where it is.” Hewitt, who has been troubled by a chronic hip injury and is seeded No. 20, served 14 aces and beat Italy’s Simone Bolelli 6-1, 6-3, 7-6 (2). Federer leads Hewitt 13-7 in career meetings and has won 11 straight going back to the Australian Open in 2004. They have played twice before at Wimbledon, with Federer winning in the quarterfinals in 2004 and semifinals in 2005. “The next round will be much more difficult,” Federer said. Continue Reading

Serena Williams wins, Ana Ivanovic upset at Wimbledon

WIMBLEDON - It was not always easy watching Serena Williams beat Amelie Mauresmo Friday in a third-round match on Centre Court, because memory set the bar so much higher than the players can now reach. These were not the same women who gave us a brilliant, three-set semifinal at Wimbledon four years ago. Williams' sluggish feet were often a half-second late to the right spot. The good news: At least Serena could still bash the ball, which is, after all, her specialty. It was far more painful watching Mauresmo, a ghost of her old balletic self after injuries and an appendectomy. There were vaguely familiar flicks of the wrist and the occasional brilliance in the first set, but basically her career appears cooked. Mauresmo's left thigh is a torn bundle inside, and required treatment again midway through the second set. The sixth-seeded Williams won, 7-6 (5), 6-1, and will next face a surprise opponent in the Round of 16 - a fellow American, Bethanie Mattek, the 69th-ranked player in the world. Mattek, who had never made it past the second round of a major before and is best known for wearing purposefully silly clothes, Friday knocked off last year's finalist, Marion Bartoli, 6-4, 6-1. Williams struggled with her own strokes, more than with No. 29 Mauresmo, for most of the first set. With the score tied 5-5 in the tiebreaker, Williams forced the issue and Mauresmo batted a wide backhand passing shot, then netted a backhand to drop the set. After that, Mauresmo could no longer muster mind over muscle. She lost heart, and very quickly the match. "I have a lot of respect for Mauresmo. I love playing her," Williams said. "She has a very different game, a very different style. I think we bring the best out in each other." Mauresmo said the leg began hurting her in the tiebreaker, and never stopped aching. "Not in the first set, but after that I was not 100% in movement," Mauresmo said. "In the second set, I really started to feel it." While the Continue Reading

Serena Williams wins first match at Australian Open

Seventh-seeded and defending champ Serena Williams, wearing fuchsia bicycle shorts and headband, a short white dress and dangling, chandelier-inspired earrings, beat Jarmila Gajdosova, 6-3, 6-3, in the first match in the Australian Open in Melbourne. No. 3 Jelena Jankovic saved three match points and needed 3 hours, 9 minutes to edge Austria's Tamira Paszek, 2-6, 6-2, 12-10. The deciding set was four minutes shy of two hours, and included 15 breaks of serve and an injury timeout for each. Top-seeded Justine Henin, in her first match at Melbourne Park since retiring from the 2006 final against Amelie Mauresmo, beat Aiko Nakamura, 6-2, 6-2, for her 29th consecutive win. NBA: LeBron James was ticketed by the Ohio State Highway Patrol for driving 101 mph on an interstate highway. The Cavs' star was cited in a 65 mph zone on I-71 near Medina, 30 miles south of Cleveland, at 2:43 a.m. on Dec. 30 - his 23rd birthday. A hearing is scheduled for Feb. 11. GOLF: K.J. Choi, up four shots going in, shot a one-over par 71 in windy conditions for a 266 total and a two-shot victory over Rory Sabbatini (68) in the Sony Open in Honolulu. BASEBALL: The Mets and the New York Blood Center are collaborating on a blood drive; those who donate will get a voucher to a select Mets game during April. The drive takes place at Shea today from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Those interested need to go to the Diamond Club entrance. In order to give, one must be at least 17 years old and weigh at least 110 pounds. SKIING: Bode Miller won a downhill race on the Lauberhorn in Wengen, Switzerland, to match the American record of 27 World Cup wins. Miller, who won the same event last year, finished in 2 minutes, 30.40 seconds.  Austrian Nicole Hosp won a World Cup slalom race in Maribor, Slovenia, for her 11th career victory. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Venus Williams flies, Serena Williams survives at U.S. Open

SHE BEGAN her summer with a triumphant run through Wimbledon, ending it with her fourth silver plate. Venus Williams does not look much less formidable in Queens, where she spent two more sets in long-limbed cruise control last night, crushing another opponent and cruising into the fourth round of the U.S. Open. "I just want to take that experience from Wimbledon and bring it right here," Williams said, moments after her 6-1, 6-2 takeout of No. 21 Alona Bondarenko of Ukraine.The warm-up phase of the Open women's draw, and too many dreadfully lopsided early round matches to count, is over. At least one would hope so. Next up for No. 12 Venus is No.5 Ana Ivanovic, 19, who lost to Williams in the Wimbledon semis by 2 and 4, but has looked formidable on the Open hardcourts."I definitely think I have chances," said Ivanovic, a 6-1, 6-3 victor over Russia's Vera Dushevina earlier yesterday. "I'm looking forward to that match because I think I'm in good shape. I feel good on the court. It will be exciting to play against her."Meanwhile, kid sister Serena Williams, the No. 8 seed, again had a considerably bumpier road than Venus, before holding off Russia's Vera Zvonareva, 6-4, 7-6 (4), to move into the fourth round. Playing her first tournament since injuring a thumb at Wimbledon, Serena had to survive 35 errors and a brief quarrel with the chair umpire, who ordered her to put away the notes she had written to herself that she studied on the changeovers."I was like, 'Well, it's not like I'm Harry Potter and my dad can magically give me notes to read,'" Serena said. "It's something that I write myself. Just little things. I just couldn't understand. I've been doing it for years."Zvonareva, a 27th-seeded 22-year-old from Moscow who made the Open quarterfinals four years ago, correctly read that she had chances to win this match, and knew she had missed a splendid opportunity, particularly by converting just two of seven break points. In a hallway beneath Ashe Stadium Continue Reading

Serena Williams falls to Justine Henin

Justine Henin took a stroll through the corridors of Arthur Ashe Stadium early last night, a solitary figure in an orange and white skirt and matching jacket. She exchanged a high-five with a security man, smiled when two other guards wished her well, then briefly stepped outside to get some fresh air, and peek at the pink-laced sky. Henin was waiting for the men to clear out of Arthur Ashe Stadium, to make way for the 12th engagement of the best rivalry in women's tennis. For the 25-year-old, top-seeded Henin, the wait was more than worth it, the proof coming in a 7-6 (3), 6-1 drubbing of No.8 Serena Williams in their third straight meeting in a Grand Slam quarterfinal. "In the second set I just took control of the rallies," said an elated Henin, the 2003 Open champion. "I played every point 100% and after that I was just cruising." The victory moves Henin into an Open semifinal against the winner of tonight's quarterfinal between No. 12 Venus Williams and No. 3 Jelena Jankovic. It also squares Henin's record with Williams at 6-6, and leaves her two victories away from a seventh Slam title. It left the graceless Williams setting new standards for surliness in defeat. Williams said the only reason she showed for the mandatory post-match press conference was because she didn't want to risk the $10,000 maximum fine. Asked if she could explain what went wrong, she said, "No, I can't. I'm sorry. Any more questions?" Was fitness an issue? "I'm very fit. I can run for hours." She gave scant credit to Henin, saying, "I just think she made a lot of lucky shots, and I made a lot of errors." And so it went. Henin had never beaten Williams on a hard court, and she achieved her breakthrough with her signature angles, punishing groundstrokes and deft forays to the net. At 5-5, 130 pounds, Henin is positively waifish compared to Williams, but bulk could keep neither Henin nor her deceptively powerful arsenal from dictating the flow of play. Henin's biggest Continue Reading

Unsteady Serena Williams survives her 2nd

FOR SERENA WILLIAMS' second match in two months, the opponent was a 25-year-old from Venice who has never before made it out of the third round of a major. It turned out to be anything but a serene evening gondola ride for the two-time U.S. Open champ, who still appears to be far from match-sharp after eight weeks on the shelf. But since Maria Elena Camerin didn't really have a weapon to hurt her with - and because Williams long ago memorized how to pull out big points at the big stadium in Flushing - little sister was able to survive and advance again.The surviving came at the end of a 51-minute first set that began as a lark and evolved into a sweat. But once Williams emerged from it, she was able to pull away from the demoralized Camerin, 7-5, 6-2, in their second-round match last night at Arthur Ashe Stadium."I felt a little better than in the first round," Williams said after she had passed the 1-hour, 27-minute test and taken a second step toward a potential quarterfinal meeting with top seed Justin Henin - not to mention a possible semifinal matchup with cruising big sister Venus. "I'm still trying to get it to come together."A woman of myriad and varied interests who is not interested in playing a heavy tournament schedule, Williams has been even less visible on tour than she wanted to be because of a thumb injury she suffered at Wimbledon. And while she is as reluctant to blame that for her current wobbles as to ever concede that she should play more often, Williams has looked every bit the untested top player in her first two matches.Against Germany's Angelique Kerber on Monday night, it was the second set that exposed Williams as a bit vulnerable. But she dug down to pull out a 6-3, 7-5 victory.Last night, after blurring out to a 4-1 lead against the shaky Camerin, Williams sprayed enough forehands long and netted enough two-fisted backhands to make a match of it. That also enabled Camerin to settle her nerves.And upon holding serve in a three-deuce Continue Reading

Serena Williams hobbles to dramatic win at Wimbledon

WIMBLEDON, England - Hobbled and hurting and essentially playing on one leg, Serena Williams managed to gut out a three-set victory at Wimbledon on Monday against an opponent who helped by fading right along with the daylight.Williams crumpled to the grass in the second set with a left calf injury, was treated on court, then kept on playing, barely able to move. Given a reprieve by a nearly two-hour rain delay, Williams returned to compete, over her mother's protests.And she won, prolonging her bid for a third title at the All England Club by getting past No. 10-seeded Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia 6-2, 6-7 (2), 6-2 to set up a quarterfinal showdown against No. 1 Justine Henin.When Hantuchova dumped a backhand into the net for the last of her 28 unforced errors, Williams blew a kiss to the charcoal-colored clouds above Centre Court."I thought about not finishing, but very briefly. I thought I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I hadn't at least tried," the No. 7 Williams said. "I've never dealt with such pain. I can't believe - I can't believe I won, really." It was, in many respects, an all-around startling day at Wimbledon, particularly for the Williams family.Serena's older sister Venus double-faulted 14 times, faced 23 break points, trailed 5-3 in the final set and still figured out a way to beat Akiko Morigami of Japan 6-2, 3-6, 7-5 in a match suspended because of rain Saturday."Two crazy matches," said the sisters' mother, Oracene Price, summing up her daughters' day. "I've got to say, they've got fight. If they don't have nothing else, they've got fight." Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Wimbledon: Handicapping the field with Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams leading the way

News’ Filip Bondy handicaps the field as Wimbledon gets underway Monday. RELATED: LOVE OR HATE HER, YOU MUST RESPECT SERENA WILLIAMS MEN The men’s draw is no longer a closed shop. The Core Four — Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Andy Murray — have captured only half of the last six majors. Stan Wawrinka has won two and Marin Cilic one. Novak Djokovic, 3-2 The slight favorite is in the easier, top half of the draw. But no sure thing after getting blasted off the clay court by Stan Wawrinka in France. Andy Murray, 3-1 In form, has the British crowd, and likes this surface. He’s stuck in the same half with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Rafael Nadal, 10-1 Way off form lately, but always dangerous. “His legs don’t look as strong to me,” John McEnroe says. “He doesn’t seem to have that first-step quickness. There’s something that doesn’t seem quite right.” Stan Wawrinka, 10-1 Powerful French champ can play power tennis with the best of them. Thankfully will have to discard his ugly, pajama-like outfit at Wimbledon. Roger Federer, 16-1 Hard to see him winning any more best-of-five tournaments. The draw would have to open. Still beautiful to watch, though. The Field, 2-1 Wouldn’t be a shock any longer to see someone like Marin Cilic, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Tomas Berdych sneak a title. An American champ, though, is a virtual impossibility. WOMEN It’s Serena against Serena, in what should be a seven-round battle. Nobody out there can beat Williams at her best. Serena Williams, 3-2 Clearly the best player. Has a difficult draw and can’t get away with her walkabouts forever. Petra Kvitova, 4-1 Erratic, defending champ can be shockingly strong on grass. Victoria Azarenka, 8-1 Two-time Australian Open titlist returning to form after injuries. Very tough mentally. A threat to Serena. Maria Sharapova, Continue Reading