The knockdown came in the ninth game of the second set here Tuesday. Venus Williams went sprawling onto center court at Roland Garros and got clay all over her tennis dress while trying to stay afloat in her quarterfinal match against Martina Hingis.
It merely delayed the inevitable. The top-seeded Hingis finished it off one game later--with help from some unforced errors from Williams--and advanced at the French Open, winning 6-3, 6-4 in 1 hour, 22 minutes.
In the semifinals, Hingis will play sentimental favorite Monica Seles, who defeated third-seeded Jana Novotna of the Czech Republic, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, in another quarterfinal match.
Second-seeded Lindsay Davenport will meet fourth-seeded Arantxa Sanchez Vicario of Spain in the other semifinal. Davenport defeated defending champion Iva Majoli, 6-1, 5-7, 6-3, to reach her first French Open semifinal, and two-time former champion Sanchez Vicario beat Patty Schnyder of Switzerland, 6-2, 6-7 (7-5), 6-0.
The only match supposedly worthy of center-court treatment was Hingis-Williams. And, as it often turns out, the match was a letdown.
Quite often, in Grand Slam matches with this sort of huge buildup, the veteran summons enough experience to quell the youngster. Hingis may be younger than Williams, by three months, but she clearly is the veteran.
Initially, the prospect of playing Williams in the quarterfinals here did not please Hingis.
"When I saw the draw, I thought, 'Oh, no way, not Venus again in the quarters,' " Hingis said. "When I think back, it was good because I'm still in good shape. At the end of the tournament, you get a little bit more tired. In the quarters, you still have all your energy and power, so it was probably better."
Of the five matches between the 17-year-olds in 1998, this one was least dramatic. Williams beat Hingis twice this year, once in Sydney and then at the Lipton Championships at Key Biscayne, Fla., and pushed Hingis to three sets at the Italian Open earlier this month.
Hingis almost always starts quickly against Williams, and Tuesday was no exception as she took a 3-0 lead in the first set, breaking Williams' serve in the second game. Williams, who had not lost a set in four matches here, pulled herself together a bit in the second set and stuck with Hingis until the seventh game.
That turned out to be her undoing. At 3-3, Williams double-faulted twice, missed two forehands and was broken at 15.
Hingis said she never believed she was in danger of losing.
"Not really, I never thought she could hurt me with something," she said.
Said Williams: "She played better. I think she knows she has to get better."
For the first time, Williams looked ill at ease in Paris. Her serve lacked power, partly because of the windy conditions, and Hingis outhit her from the baseline, especially off the backhand side. Williams had 38 unforced errors to Hingis' 28.
Afterward, Williams said she had to get serious and work harder.
"I'm back in reality now that I'm not winning anymore," she said. "When you're winning, you aren't always able to see the things you are doing wrong. I guess you have horse blinders on a little bit.
"Now I'm able to see. . . . You can have someone be soft and pet you and say, 'Yeah, you tried. Next time.' I'm too old for [that]. I just need the truth."
The message came through loud and clear from Hingis, who is within two matches of winning the only Grand Slam event to elude her. Seles, however, has been picking up momentum with each match after she arrived here with little preparation because of the recent death of her father and coach, Karolj.
Novotna was classy when she shook hands with Seles after the match. The sixth-seeded Seles, who has won here three times, was clearly the crowd favorite.
"I just told Monica that I wanted to tell her she played a good match--it's nice to see her doing well and to keep it up," Novotna said.
The most surprised semifinalist is Davenport, of Newport Beach. She arrived at the French Open after a second-round loss at the German Open and not feeling terribly positive about her chances.
"It's really unbelievable," Davenport said. "Coming in here, not doing well in Berlin, I didn't have a lot of confidence. I never imagined I'd be in the semifinals here. You know, I'm not far from the finals."
After a tournament of cocky teenagers, the self-effacing Davenport is refreshing in her candor.
"If I was a betting person or journalist, I would overlook myself also," she said. "I would. Coming into the French Open, it's not like sure money, you know, 'She's going to get to the semis or the finals.' "
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Top-ranked Martina Hingis has a 6-2 record against Venus Williams.
* Lipton Championships (March)--Lost to Hingis, 6-4, 6-2, in third round
* Toshiba Classic (July)--Lost to Hingis, 6-2, 6-1, in quarterfinals
* U.S. Open (September)--Lost to Hingis, 6-0, 6-4, in finals
* Sydney (January)--Defeated Hingis, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5, in quarterfinals
* Indian Wells (March)--Lost to Hingis, 6-0, 7-6 (9-7), in semifinals
* Lipton Championships (March)--Defeated Hingis, 6-2, 5-7, 6-2, in semifinals
* Italian Open (May)--Lost to Hingis, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2, in finals
* French Open (June)--Lost to Hingis, 6-3, 6-4, in quarterfinals