PARIS -- Venus Williams peered through the rain drops at the
Day-Glo yellow letters and numbers dotting the black scoreboard.
First came an unwanted reminder: She was losing her French Open
quarterfinal. Then, like an airport's schedule board, the digits
flipped, revealing more bad news: Her sister Serena, seeded second,
was gone already, beaten 6-3, 2-6, 6-3 by Jennifer Capriati across
the grounds on center court.
Not much later, No. 4 Venus swatted a soggy, clay-caked ball
wide for the last of 43 unforced errors, allowing Anastasia Myskina
of Russia to wrap up a 6-3, 6-4 upset.
This anyone-can-beat-anyone French Open simply keeps producing
surprises. Never before had the Williams sisters been eliminated in
the same round at a tournament; it happened in a span of 28 minutes
"We're going to pack our bags and leave," said Venus, whose
19-match winning streak ended. "There's nothing left for us here
anymore. We're going home."
Clearly, the injuries that forced the siblings off the tour for
the last half of 2003 and parts of this year hampered them -- in
their preparation, in their performance and in another vital way.
They've let slip the intimidation factor they built by being
ranked Nos. 1-2, meeting in Slam final after Slam final, and
divvying up eight of 11 major titles from Wimbledon in 2000 through
the Australian Open in 2003.
And, as their mother pointed out, with each miscue (Serena had
45 unforced errors to Capriati's 24), the siblings' self-belief can
"When you start making a lot of errors, you make opponents feel
that, 'OK, OK, I've got a chance now,' and their confidence goes
up," Oracene Price said after shuffling between show courts to
catch parts of each daughter's match. "With my girls, when they do
what they do, they can lose their confidence, too. It goes both
Their body language was anything but positive Tuesday. In her
third game, Serena spiked her racket after getting broken by
shanking a swinging volley 5 feet long. Venus bent over and let out
a yelp after putting a backhand return into the net to waste one of
three break points in her last game.
"Now, of course, everybody believes at least that they can
fight with them," Myskina said. Soon, though, she sounded a word
of caution, saying Venus and Serena will "be back. I mean, they
were the best -- they can be the best again."
That certainly goes for Capriati, who lost eight straight
matches to Serena until beating her at the Italian Open last month.
"I have to give myself credit for not giving up," the 2001
French Open champion said. "You have to take it like a fighter.
You're going to get punched, and you've got to take the blows and
just keep coming back."
Seeded No. 7 after a poor start to the season partly because of
a bad back, Capriati now assumes the role of favorite. The other
three women still around owned a combined total of one previous
major semifinal appearance: No. 6 Myskina, No. 9 Elena Dementieva
of Russia, and No. 14 Paola Suarez of Argentina, a 6-1, 6-3 winner
against Maria Sharapova.
With Dementieva, a 2000 U.S. Open semifinalist, defeating No. 3
Amelie Mauresmo of France 6-4, 6-3, it's the first time in the Open
era (which began in 1968) that three of a major's top four seeded
women lost on the same day.
Keeping with that theme, Tim Henman -- never past the fourth
round at a major other than Wimbledon -- defeated Juan Ignacio Chela
6-2, 6-4, 6-4 to set up a semifinal against No. 3 Guillermo Coria,
who beat 1998 champion Carlos Moya 7-5, 7-6 (3), 6-3.
Perhaps the performance by the serve-and-volleying Henman, the
first Englishman since 1963 in the French Open semifinals, can be
chalked up to the familiar sights of rain and green tarps. Capriati
and Serena waited out a 75-minute delay, then suspensions in the
first two sets.
The temperature was 60, and both walked out wearing
Starburst-bright sweat pants and jackets zipped to the chin
(Capriati's cherry red, Serena's a shade of grape). Capriati
strained her right thigh in the fourth round, and it was heavily
wrapped Tuesday. In the second game, she saved a break point by
sprinting to scoop a drop shot, then limped back to the baseline.
Otherwise, she showed no ill effects. Capriati made brilliant
returns, including two winners off first serves to end the opening
set, traded power during rallies, and raced to keep balls in play.
There were some terrific exchanges, and some sloppiness -- "not the
highest quality," Capriati acknowledged.
On one riveting, 16-stroke point, Williams lunged for a backhand
and left Capriati a sitter she slapped into the net. Williams
raised her arms in a V, lost her footing, and momentum carried her
into the courtside geraniums. That gave Williams three break
points, and a backhand winner gave her a 3-0 edge in a second set
But Capriati never folded, showing the resolve that won three
majors in 2001-02 but failed as six of her last seven Slam losses
went three sets. She credits new coach Heinz Gunthardt, who used to
work with Steffi Graf, with instilling confidence.
"I tried not to listen to those voices that sometimes come in
my head, you know, the negative ones," said Capriati, 1-1 this
year against semifinal foe Myskina.
"It's about time, finally, that I won one of these matches."
As for the Williams sisters, Venus was asked how long it will
take for them to return to the top.
"Next event," she replied. "We're both competitors more than
anything. ... So we won't just sit back and accept a loss."