PARIS -- Venus Williams shanked overheads, dumped volleys into the net and sailed strokes several feet long, 70 unforced errors in all. Not at her best, it didn't help that she was facing
a younger version of herself in 17-year-old Nicole Vaidisova.
With power aplenty, precocious talent and a steely resolve,Vaidisova reached her first Grand Slam semifinal by coming back to upset Williams 6-7 (5), 6-1, 6-3 at the French Open on Tuesday.
"You can believe I'll watch the film and figure out the things I didn't do right," said Williams, a five-time major champion and former No. 1. "Like I said, she played well. She deserved to
Vaidisova knocked off the current No. 1, Amelie Mauresmo, in the previous round and now will meet 2004 U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova for a berth in Saturday's final. Kim Clijsters plays 2003 and 2005 French Open champion Justine Henin-Hardenne in an all-Belgian semifinal, and a win would push Clijsters back to No. 1 in the rankings.
Kuznetsova erased a 5-1 deficit in the first set against No. 14 Dinara Safina and won 24 of 27 points in the second en route to a 7-6 (5), 6-0 victory.
"It maybe looked like I was not awake," Kuznetsova said of her slow start.
Clijsters beat Martina Hingis 7-6 (5), 6-1, and Henin-Hardenne eliminated Anna-Lena Groenefeld 7-5, 6-2.
The 16th-seeded Vaidisova is the only member of the women's final four who hasn't won a Grand Slam title. When she was a kid, she played with the same yellow racket she'd seen Williams use. Two years ago, Vaidisova made her Grand Slam debut as a qualifier at the U.S. Open and was excited just to set foot in the locker room, gawking at the collection of tennis stars.
Is she one of them now?
"No, not yet," Vaidisova said, smiling, "but I'm working on it."
If her improving serve, booming groundstrokes and 6-foot frame are similar to those of the 25-year-old Williams, there's another player to whom the Czech teen is being compared these days: Maria Sharapova, who was 17 when she won Wimbledon in 2004.
Both are coached by their fathers. Both went from Eastern Europe to Florida to work with Nick Bollettieri, whose protégés include Andre Agassi, Monica Seles and Anna Kournikova. Both are photogenic veterans of magazine cover shoots and endorsement deals.
"Maria is perhaps much more businesslike, and Nicole is a little more laid-back," Bollettieri said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "But one similarity they have: They're both competitive as hell."
When Williams whipped a forehand winner down the line on her way to taking the first set, Vaidisova bent over, smacked her racket on the court and let out a yelp.
That was part of a running conversation Vaidisova held with herself to chastise mistakes, including eight double-faults. After one poor serve, she held up an index finger and cried out. The words were inaudible, but the message was clear: "Why can't I put a single serve in the right spot?!"
Tough as Vaidisova is on court, she sounds like a typical teen off it, calling upcoming matches "crazy tough" and describing her post-match mind-set Tuesday as "in my little 'La La Land.'"
She grew more and more consistent as they played past the two-hour mark. Williams, meanwhile, was more and more erratic, and when she missed, she really missed. When Vaidisova broke to 3-1 in the second set, it came thanks to two errant backhands by Williams, one with the court wide open.
In the final set, Williams made 24 unforced errors, 10 more than Vaidisova. Four came when Williams was broken in the fifth game: an off-the-mark volley, a backhand long, a forehand into the net, a double-fault.
Williams was far from the confident player who re-emerged at Wimbledon last year, and perhaps that's a result of a lack of matches. Right elbow and other arm injuries meant the French Open was Williams' fourth tournament of 2006.
"I'm disappointed. I would have loved to have done better," said Williams, the last American -- man or woman -- in the tournament. "During the last six weeks, I had a lot of challenges,
physically, that I was able to overcome just to be here today."
Hingis, also 25, was at her first French Open since 2001, having taken three years off tour because of assorted foot and ankle injuries. Playing for a fifth straight day, she looked sluggish against reigning U.S. Open champion Clijsters.
Hingis, though, took delight in seeing Vaidisova play.
"Somehow, yeah, makes you feel young again when you see someone like that who is playing so well," Hingis said. "She's definitely got potential."