Court, and Class, Are in Session
Serena Williams taught a lesson Friday at the French Open.
Simply, it was that she is in fighting trim.
It took the top-seeded Williams 40 minutes -- including a 17-minute second set -- to eliminate Austrian veteran Barbara Schett in the third round, 6-0, 6-0. Schett won six points in the second set and 20 in the match.
In his own way, Andre Agassi was equally impressive.
After struggling through a five-set match Wednesday against Croatian teenager Mario Ancic, Agassi played clean, controlled clay-court tennis against a talented, stylish opponent. On all the big points, Agassi, seeded second, sent the ball where he wanted it to go, beating 26th-seeded Xavier Malisse of Belgium, 6-4, 7-5, 7-5.
When Vince Spadea, seeded 29th, lost to big-serving Dutchman Martin Verkerk, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 7-5, Agassi, 33, became the only American man left in the draw.
Agassi’s fourth-round opponent will be unseeded Flavio Saretta of Brazil, whose opponent Friday, Galo Blanco, retired in the third set with Saretta leading, 7-6 (3), 6-3, 2-2. Saretta, 22, said of Agassi, “For sure, he is my idol. This is a dream for me.”
That may not be the feeling of Williams’ next opponent, Japan’s Ai Sugiyama. Sugiyama, seeded 16th, knocked out 18th-seeded American Meghann Shaughnessy, 6-1, 6-4. Williams, after all, said she could play better. “I could serve better,” she said.
Altogether, it was an orderly day.
Other than Spadea, the only seeded loser among the men was No. 23 Younes El Aynaoui of Morocco. El Aynaoui, who had lost a memorable five-set match to Andy Roddick at the Australian Open, was knocked out by Argentina’s Mariano Zabaleta, 6-2, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (2).
Fourth-seeded Carlos Moya, the 1998 French Open champion, stumbled in the third and fourth sets but recovered to beat No. 31 Juan Ignacio Chela of Argentina, 6-2, 6-3, 3-6, 3-6, 6-2. Also moving into the fourth round were seventh-seeded Guillermo Coria of Argentina, 11th-seeded Rainer Schuettler of Germany and 13th-seeded Jiri Novak of the Czech Republic.
Schuettler had been in an intense match with South Africa’s Wayne Ferreira when, after lunging for a ball and doing the splits, Ferreira collapsed with a strained thigh muscle and was carried from the court on a stretcher. Schuettler, who led at the time, 6-3, 1-6, 7-6 (3), 2-3, rushed to Ferreira’s side with an ice pack.
There were no upsets on the women’s side.
The only two women who have beaten Williams this year, fourth-seeded Justine Henin-Hardenne and fifth-seeded Amelie Mauresmo, pounded out easy victories.
Henin-Hardenne of Belgium beat Dally Randriantefy of Madagascar, 6-1, 6-1, and Mauresmo, of France, overpowered Fabiola Zuluaga of Colombia, 6-3, 6-4. Mauresmo and Williams seem headed for a showdown in the quarterfinals and Williams might be able to get revenge against Henin-Hardenne in the semis.
Eighth-seeded Chanda Rubin overcame a slow start and sent home fellow American and 31st-seeded Laura Granville, 2-6, 6-2, 6-3, and 18-year-old Ashley Harkleroad, who had engineered a spirited three-set upset of ninth-seeded Daniela Hantuchova two days earlier, admittedly tired in losing to Spanish veteran Magui Serna, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2.
Williams has won 31 consecutive Grand Slam matches and seems disinclined to lose one any time soon.
“It wasn’t as easy as it looked,” she insisted.
But there was only one point that brought the crowd into the match.
It was the final point of the first set and it was a sequence of shots that only Williams could have constructed.
Schett tried to win with a drop shot, a good idea, it seemed. Williams sprinted forward and was able to scoop the ball back, but she also slid several feet off the court. Like a cartoon character revving her feet, as soon as she could stop her slide, Williams went running across the court to the other sideline, just in time to lunge and whack a backhand winner past a stunned Schett.
“I’ve been running really fast here,” Williams said. “I’ve been running fast since the first round. I guess this is the fittest I’ve been all year.”
Schett hit one backhand winner in the second set and raised her arms in a mock salute of excitement. She smiled graciously, ruefully, as she left the court. Schett had beaten Venus Williams in the first round here two years ago.
“Maybe, deep down, maybe there’s something there,” Serena said when asked about the revenge motive. “I knew I had to be really serious. I couldn’t joke around.”
Agassi described his opponent as “an incredibly talented player who has a lot of different shots, moves really well, he’s able to use your pace and he’s able to come up with his own pace. So he can play offense and defense.”
Which Malisse did often. The 22-year-old Belgian hit hair-raising drop volleys and impossible roundhouse forehands from well behind the baseline to win some points. Just not the key points, the break points at the end of a set, or the game points to hold serve.
Agassi also said he had a better handle on his own game than he did when he almost lost to the 19-year-old Ancic on Wednesday.
“I was controlling the ball a lot better,” Agassi said. “When it left my racquet, the shot was actually going where I told it to. It’s pretty important to know what your shot’s going to do and to hit it within a certain proximity of what you’re aiming for.”
In other words, Agassi was putting the ball where he hit it.
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French Open at a Glance
*--* Highlights from Day 5 of the French Open on Friday: * Men’s seeded winners: No. 2 Andre Agassi, No. 4 Carlos Moya, No. 7 Guillermo Coria, No. 11 Rainer Schuettler, No. 13 Jiri Novak * Men’s seeded losers: No. 22 Wayne Ferreira, No. 23 Younes El Aynaoui, No. 26 Xavier Malisse, No. 29 Vince Spadea, No. 31 Juan Ignacio Chela * Women’s seeded winners: No. 1 Serena Williams, No. 4 Justine Henin-Hardenne, No. 8 Chanda Rubin, No. 16 Ai Sugiyama, No. 19 Patty Schnyder * Women’s seeded losers: No. 14 Eleni Daniilidou, No. 18 Meghann Shaughnessy, No. 31 Laura Granville * Stat of the day: 6-0, 6-0, Serena Williams wins without dropping a game for the second time in her career