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Davenport and Mauresmo up against Williams wall

They must overcome the sisters' dominance in today's semifinals.

By KEITH NIEBUHR, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 6, 2002

They must overcome the sisters' dominance in today's semifinals.

NEW YORK -- What once was incredibly rare in tennis has become standard these days.

When Serena and Venus Williams met in the U.S. Open final last year, it had been more than 100 years since siblings played for a Grand Slam championship. There have been two more all-Williams finals in 2002 (Serena won titles at the French Open and Wimbledon) and only underdog opponents Lindsay Davenport and Amelie Mauresmo stand between another.

Have the Williamses separated themselves from the pack?

"Yeah, definitely," said sixth-seeded Monica Seles after losing to Venus 6-2, 6-3 in a 57-minute quarterfinal rout Wednesday.

The fourth-seeded Davenport and No. 10 Mauresmo have hopes of bringing Serena and Venus back to earth, but this is no easy task. In nine matches against Serena, Davenport is 2-7, including 1-2 at the Open. Mauresmo is 0-4 against Venus.

Davenport is playing her first Grand Slam event of the year after missing several months with a serious knee injury that required surgery in January. She returned to the practice courts in May and to the circuit in July, giving her limited preparation.

Davenport reached two semifinals and two finals in Open tuneups, then drew a favorable Open draw. When fifth-seeded Jelena Dokic lost in the second round, that cleared the way for Davenport, who has played one seeded opponent (No. 13 Silvia Elia Farina) in four matches. She has dropped one set.

"I really could have never said this would happen, especially after January and February," Davenport said. "It was just impossible, in my mind. It's an amazing feeling.

"I really think this is one of my better achievements, just to be able to come back from everything this year and get to the semis of a Slam. I can't even describe it. For some reason here, I've started to reflect on things I've gone through and I don't know why. I mean, I just wanted to play here so badly and do well. I'm so happy that I was able to do it so far."

Davenport won the Open in 1998 and has reached the quarters or better every year since 1997. She is 42-10 here, 2-2 in semifinals. Serena, the top seed, beat Davenport in a three-set Open quarterfinal last year.

Serena "is definitely a different player today than she probably was a year ago," Davenport said. "But on the same token, we've had a lot of great battles here."

"We play the same style of game," Serena said. "I actually like playing Lindsay. I can't wait. Win, lose or draw, I'm going to have fun."

While Davenport's semifinal appearance might have come as little surprise, the same can't be said for Mauresmo, the Frenchwoman who had never advanced past the Open quarters before shocking No. 3 Jennifer Capriati 4-6, 7-6, 6-3 Wednesday. No player had a tougher road to the semifinals as Mauresmo faced three seeded players and two ranked in the top 10: Capriati and No. 7 Kim Clijsters. Against Capriati, Mauresmo trailed one set and 6-5 in the second.

Venus has beaten Mauresmo three times in Grand Slam events, most recently in three sets at this year's French Open.

"People are maybe going to get bored of seeing always the same final," Mauresmo said. "To me, it gets a little irritating because you want to go out there and beat those guys."

Serena has won all but 14 games in five matches. Venus was pushed to three sets by No. 14 Chanda Rubin in the fourth round, but cruised in her other matches.

The sisters have combined to win 11 events this year and are 102-10 in matches.

"They've proven over the last year that they are the two best players in the world," Davenport said. "If anyone else wants to get into the mix and really be talked about in the same breath as those two, you have to raise the level of your game and you have to do it at the big moments like the U.S. Open."

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