Friday, March 28, 2003

Serena still unbeaten in '03

Williams reaches Key Biscayne final

By Steven Wine
The Associated Press

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. - Serena Williams is playing so well she can even beat the rain.

Showers forced the suspension of one match and the postponement of two others Thursday in the Nasdaq-100 Open, but the rain came after the top-seeded Williams defeated No. 3 Kim Clijsters 6-4, 6-2 in the semifinals. Williams improved to 16-0 this year. She hasn't lost since November, when Clijsters beat her in Los Angeles at the season-ending WTA Championships.

"When I lost in L.A., I didn't like the feeling," Williams said. "That was a long time ago."

Her opponent Saturday will be the winner of the all-American semifinal between sixth-seeded Jennifer Capriati and No. 12 Chanda Rubin. The downpour forced the postponement of that match until Friday.

Williams defeated Capriati in last year's final.

"If I'm playing my best tennis, I don't think anyone right now can beat me," Williams said.

Earlier this year, Clijsters led Williams 5-1 in the third set of their semifinal in the Australian Open before losing, but this time the Belgian failed to muster much of a challenge.

In men's play, No. 9 Albert Costa was two points from victory when rain forced the suspension of his quarterfinal match against No. 4 Roger Federer. Costa erased two match points and rallied to lead 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-5 with Federer serving at deuce when a light rain stopped play.

The stadium crowd booed as the players left the court. Heavy showers began falling a short time later and continued for several hours, and the last quarterfinal match between five-time champion Andre Agassi and No. 19 Younes El Aynaoui was postponed until Friday.

In the first men's semifinal Friday night, No. 5 Carlos Moya plays No. 13 Paradorn Srichaphan.

Williams' performance underscored a discouraging reality for the rest of the WTA Tour: She can play less than her best and still drub a top opponent like Clijsters. Williams exceeded her norm with 37 unforced errors, including a handful of wild shots, and lost one point when she stumbled and fell to the hard court face first.

"I'm not too happy with the way I played," she said. "I don't think I made too many of my shots, but I figured if I could just make a few of them, then I would be all right."

She was correct. Williams played an especially sloppy game to make it 4-4 in the opening set, committing four unforced errors and then staring angrily at her racket, as if it were the culprit.

From there she won 15 of the next 18 points and six consecutive games to take control. Clijsters, who has played 29 matches already this year, said she tired at the end of the first set.

"I felt physically and mentally empty," the 19-year-old Belgian said. "I'm taking four or five weeks off after here."

Williams said she didn't see any sign of fatigue from Clijsters.

"I'm not tired. I don't think she was tired," Williams said. "I just think it was a tough match. I picked up my game a little bit. That's what happened."

Shots that sizzled into the corners kept Clijsters running and lunging, which negated her own considerable power. She had 28 unforced errors and just six winners - five when Williams was on her feet.

Three games from the finish, Williams lost her balance hitting a backhand and fell in a sprawl. Clijsters smacked a backhand to win the point as Williams rose and assessed the damaged, which was limited to scraped knees.

"Just clumsy," she said.

It was just a knockdown, not a knockout.

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