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Venus' breakthrough ends string of losses at six

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- Big sis won for a change in the latest Williams family showdown, and little sis took it poorly.

Venus Williams ended a streak of six consecutive losses to
sister Serena, winning 6-1, 7-6 (8) Tuesday in the quarterfinals of
the Nasdaq-100 Open.

Meeting for the first time since July 2003, the sisters produced
the same tense, sloppy tennis that has marred the rivalry in the
past. But there was plenty of effort and emotion.

When Serena lost the first five games, she took an angry swipe
at the hardcourt and mangled her racket, prompting jeers from the
stadium crowd.

"Her racket is actually fragile -- powerful but fragile," Venus
said.

Then, when Venus smacked a crosscourt winner for a 3-2 lead in
the second set, she walked to her chair with a glare, her teeth
gritted in determination, while Serena admonished herself and
screamed a profanity.

"She's definitely a little more fiery than I am," Venus said.
"I keep it a little more even-keel."

In the tiebreaker, Serena pushed a forehand into the net to fall
behind 9-8, then flung her racket and buried her face in her hands.
She sailed a backhand long on match point, and Venus raised her
arms in jubilation.

The sisters met at the net and hugged, and Venus consoled her
younger sister with a pat on the back. Venus grinned and waved to
the crowd, then gestured to Serena and applauded by patting her
racket.

"In the last matches Serena just always played better," Venus
said. "She won them. I was happy at least that a Williams won.
Obviously I would have loved to have won, but for me it's like the
past now."

The defeat ended a 21-match winning streak at Key Biscayne for
No. 3-seeded Serena, the three-time defending champion. Venus has
also won the tournament three times.

"There was nothing I could do in the first set, but I had
plenty of chances in the second," Serena said. "We should still
be out there."

In the semifinals Thursday, No. 8-seeded Venus will play No.
2-seeded Maria Sharapova.

"Maria should be ready to play, for sure," Serena said.

Sharapova interrupted Justine Henin-Hardenne's comeback from a
seven-month layoff by winning 6-1, 6-7 (6), 6-2. Among those
reaching the men's quarterfinals were top-ranked Roger Federer and
six-time Key Biscayne champion Andre Agassi.

Williams met Williams for the first time since the 2003
Wimbledon final, and the latest chapter in their series produced
the same awkward shotmaking as in the past. Venus hit one serve
that landed short of the net.

"It has always been difficult for me to watch," Agassi said
before the match. "I just couldn't imagine what it's like
competing against a sibling."

But the surprising result might revive the rivalry, and it's a
psychological breakthrough for Venus, who went into a tailspin
after her last win over Serena for the 2001 U.S. Open title. Since
that match, Serena has since won six major titles, beating Venus in
the final five times.

The sisters took the court at 8:30 p.m., Serena wearing a
fuchsia body suit and Venus in a more conservative black and white
dress. Serena foot-faulted twice in her first service game, perhaps
a sign of nerves, and was soon talking to herself.

"Why would you do that?" she said after one errant shot.

"The first set for me was fantastic," Venus said.

Venus smacked winners into the corners and scrambled after shots
beyond the reach of most players, surprising Serena at least once
when the ball came back. But Venus also had seven double faults and
30 unforced errors while converting just three of 12 break-point
chances, and Serena was no sharper.

Most of the drama came in the tiebreaker. Serena saved one match
point when Venus mis-hit a backhand for 6-6. Venus then twice saved
set points with backhand winners, the second kissing the baseline
for 8-all.

Two points later, big sis had a big win. Venus said she's
confident she'll regain the No. 1 ranking.

"For me its a given," she said. "I feel like I have the
talent and the experience. I feel like it's a matter of time."