© St. Petersburg Times, published January 19, 2003
MELBOURNE, Australia -- Venus Williams had her latest opponent sprawling and sighing, and she stayed on course for a fourth straight Grand Slam final against her sister, Serena.
Venus surged into the Australian Open quarterfinals today by defeating Nicole Pratt 6-3, 6-2 in 1 hour, 17 minutes.
Venus, the second seed, had to save 11 break points and committed 33 errors, but she offset them with 35 winners.
Serena, the world's top-ranked player and winner of the past three majors, plays her fourth-round match Monday against 18th-seeded Eleni Daniilidou. Serena missed last year's Australian with an ankle injury before beating Venus in the title matches at the French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open.
Pratt, an Aussie ranked 54th, had the center-court crowd behind her as she strained to reach every ball against Venus. But several times when Pratt thought she had won a point, Venus hit a winner past her on an all-out sprint.
Heading into the tournament's second week, Venus said: "Maybe the first week is harder. Players come out against me, feel loose and relaxed and play good tennis. At least in the second week I know what's coming."
Next up is No. 7 Daniela Hantuchova, who reached her third consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinal with a 7-5, 6-3 victory over No. 12 Patty Schnyder. Hantuchova also went all out, spraying 39 errors with 27 winners, and she was helped by 27 missed shots by Schnyder.
Meanwhile, Serena is coming off her 24th consecutive Grand Slam victory, in which she overpowered Tamarine Tanasugarn 6-1, 6-1. Serena has an eye on fourth-seeded Kim Clijsters, a possible semifinal opponent.
"My priorities still remain to try and stay No. 1," she said. "It's going to be hard, because there are lots of people after me, namely Venus, who really wants to be No. 1 again."
On the men's side, No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt routed Radek Stepanek 6-3, 6-2, 6-0 to move into the fourth round. Hewitt lost the first two games before getting on track.
A year ago Hewitt was recovering from chicken pox and was beaten in the first round. He had arrived as the new No. 1 in the world, and the early loss stung.
He is intent on setting things straight. After beating Stepanek, he saluted the crowd and walked to his courtside seat, not with a smile but with gritted teeth.
"It's a big relief," he said. "Nothing went right last year, obviously, and there was obviously a lot of pressure and expectation coming into it again this year, being the No. 1 seed and being fitter and healthier as well.
"The last few Grand Slams, I've been able to play some of my better tennis toward the end, rather than at the start. I feel like I'm getting better and better with each match."
He next faces Younes El Aynaoui, seeded 18th, who beat Feliciano Lopez 5-7, 6-2, 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (10-8). Hewitt beat El Aynaoui in four sets in a quarterfinal at last year's U.S. Open.
Hewitt had few problems against Stepanek, ranked No. 68. After the first two games he "felt pretty much in control ... I thought it would be a little bit tougher than it turned out."
Hewitt has dropped seven games in his past six sets.
"You really can't go out there and expect to cruise through," he said. "You've got to put your head down and work extremely hard."
Hewitt made his debut at this event in 1997, becoming the youngest qualifier ever in the tournament. He advanced to the main draw at 15 years, 11 months.
But the Australian has been his least successful Grand Slam. He won the U.S. Open in 2001 and Wimbledon last year, and made the French Open quarterfinals in 2001.
Hewitt has equaled his best effort at the Australian. He reached the fourth round in 2000, losing to Magnus Norman.
And he wants more.
"I just block everything out," he said. "I just worry about going out there and doing the job. Three down, four to go, hopefully."