'Unbelievable' Williams reaches French semis

PARIS (AP) -- The women&#39;s semifinalists at the French Open consist of a Russian, two Belgians and Serena Williams, who&#39;s simply out of this world.<br><br>With an intimidating glare and strokes

Tuesday, June 3rd 2003, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

PARIS (AP) -- The women's semifinalists at the French Open consist of a Russian, two Belgians and Serena Williams, who's simply out of this world.

With an intimidating glare and strokes to match, Williams notched her 33rd consecutive Grand Slam victory Tuesday, beating Frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo 6-1, 6-2.

It was a deflating rout for French fans -- and for the rest of the women's tour, which Williams has dominated since winning the Roland Garros title a year ago. She's two victories from a fifth successive Grand Slam title.

"She played an unbelievable match," said Justine Henin-Hardenne, who faces Williams in the semifinals Thursday. The Belgian beat Chanda Rubin 6-3, 6-2 and is projected to overtake Venus Williams for the No. 3 spot in next week's rankings.

Another Belgian, No. 2 Kim Clijsters, also advanced and will next play unseeded Nadia Petrova, the first female Russian semifinalist at the French Open in 28 years.

Clijsters ended Conchita Martinez's 16th French Open, 6-2, 6-1. Petrova won a pivotal 49-shot rally to edge compatriot Vera Zvonareva 6-1, 4-6, 6-3.

Williams began her match with an uncharacteristically stern expression, and she didn't crack a smile until after the final point. Playing on center court at Roland Garros against a Parisian who had won their most recent meeting, Williams was eager to be at her best.

"It's difficult when you're playing a player who the crowd loves so much and who does so much for the country, and you're playing her in her country," Williams said. "Then it's like you have to put yourself in a bubble and pretend as if nothing's around."

Also contributing to her stern demeanor: The match was her first since her sister was upset in the fourth round, preventing a fifth consecutive all-Williams Grand Slam final.

"I'm on a mission," Serena said. "I plan on reaching it."

She raced to a 4-0 lead, winning 16 of the first 19 points. After Mauresmo made it 4-1, Williams won six games in a row and again led 4-0.

The fifth-seeded Mauresmo, who has a history of letting nerves get the best her in Grand Slam matches, confessed it happened again. She committed 34 unforced errors and double-faulted six times.

But even Mauresmo at her peak might not have enough against Williams, who avenged a loss to the Frenchwoman at Rome on May 17.

"You know, I didn't play well in Rome," Williams said. "When I play well, it's hard to beat me."

In the semifinals, she'll face the only other player to defeat her in 2003. Williams won her first 21 matches this year before losing to Henin-Hardenne in the final at Charleston, S.C., on April 13.

"She is the favorite, for sure," said Henin-Hardenne, who lost to Venus Williams in the Australian Open semifinals. "I will feel a little bit intimidated. I'll try to be as positive as possible."

No. 4-seeded Henin-Hardenne, as always wielding the best-looking backhand in tennis, easily eliminated Rubin. Clijsters, the runner-up at the 2001 French Open, hit 29 winners to beat Martinez.

The Belgian sweep delighted many flag-waving fans who made the trip across the border to watch both matches.

"For the Belgians, it feels like a Belgian Grand Slam," Clijsters said.

More likely, another Williams Grand Slam.


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