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Serena Williams avenges loss to Italy's Schiavone
NEW YORK -- The bling don't mean a thing if she ain't got that swing.
Serena Williams had it all -- the $40,000 diamond chandelier earrings upgraded with 3-carat studs, the 10-carat diamond choker, the sweet swings that had been missing in her comeback -- as she flashed her best tennis of the U.S. Open on Friday.
Williams, taking on a seeded player for the first time in the tournament, avenged a loss to Italy's Francesca Schiavone at Rome in May with a 6-3, 6-4 victory. Next up in the fourth round for the No. 8 Williams is her sister and fellow two-time champion, No. 10 Venus, who followed her in the stadium in the evening with a 6-3, 6-3 win against No. 20 Daniela Hantuchova.
"I'm feeling, actually, the best I've felt in a really long time," Serena said.
Venus, bejeweled less lavishly but glittering in lavender, felt just as good on court in front of an Open record night crowd of 23,352.
"Are you guys ready for the Williams sisters?" she asked the fans, then laughed as they responded with cheers. "Yeah. We'll see you on Sunday. It's going to be a lot of hard hitting, it's going to be a lot of hard serving. We'll both have a few tricks up our sleeves."
Neither sister wanted to meet this early in the tournament. Six of their eight Grand Slam matches against each other have been in finals, Serena winning the last five. This ninth clash in a major is the earliest since the second round of the 1998 Australian Open, which Venus won in straight sets.
"It's obviously extremely disappointing to have to play my sister in the next round," Serena said. "She's playing unbelievable. I'm just going to have to pick it up."
Venus, who won Wimbledon two months ago, also is getting better round by round. Yet she knows that her toughest test is coming up.
"At the end of the day it doesn't matter how Serena is playing," Venus said. "Her competitive spirit is so high. You have to go to the ends of the earth to beat her."
On a sun-dappled day with balmy breezes, No. 1 Maria Sharapova, No. 4 Kim Clijsters and No. 9 Nadia Petrova won in straight sets.
Men's No. 1 Roger Federer watched Fabrice Santoro entertain the late night crowd and win points on a few trick shots -- one between his legs, running with his back to the net; another a behind-the-back volley; still another with a flick of the wrist while turned around. Federer was less showy and less inspired, doing just enough to beat him 7-5, 7-5, 7-6 (2).
"I can't play better than I did tonight," said Santoro, a Frenchman who lives in Federer's homeland of Switzerland.
"It's always a pleasure to play against him because it's so different," Federer said. "It was because of him, not because of me, that the match was so great."
In other men's matches, No. 3 Lleyton Hewitt won in straight sets, unseeded Paradorn Srichaphan upset No. 6 Nikolay Davydenko, No. 11 David Nalbandian won a four-setter against Peter Wessels, unseeded Novak Djokovic beat No. 22 Mario Ancic, and No. 25 Taylor Dent became the only American to reach the third round in the top half of the draw.
Serena Williams and Schiavone entered Arthur Ashe Stadium in the late afternoon as long shadows from the light poles atop the stadium framed the blue court and the lowering sun made Williams' diamonds shine all the more.
Her pricey earrings, on loan from a designer, didn't fall off this time, as one did in her first match, but the necklace came undone near the end. She carefully put it aside then finished the match. The earrings will be put up for auction, she said, with the proceeds going to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.
There was no resemblance between Williams' performance this time and the match on clay in Rome, when she was coming back from an ankle injury and hadn't played in a month. Nor was she the slow, out-of-shape player who was sent packing from Wimbledon in the third round after skipping the French Open.
Now she moved more fluidly, struck groundstrokes deeper and more confidently, chased down shots more easily -- though she couldn't quite reach a couple of the 25th-seeded Schiavone's well-disguised drop shots, despite breathless sprints from the baseline. Williams had said a couple of days earlier that she was getting by despite playing at under 50 percent of her ability and fitness.
That was against unseeded, less talented players, and the same level wouldn't work against players like Schiavone or those seeded higher.
"I'm definitely picking it up each round," said Williams, who had to pull out of a tournament in Toronto last month because of a strained left knee, the same one she had surgery on two years ago and has caused her problems at times since. "I'm definitely playing better than I was even a week ago and two weeks ago. I'm getting better and better."
Three aces and two breaks helped Williams put away the first set quickly. Then when Schiavone stepped up the pressure in the second set, Williams responded in kind. It was a loud match. Williams, grunting on every shot, screamed as if she had been stung by a bee when she missed a couple. Schiavone kept up delayed brays of "Hee!" on each stroke when the ball was already coming down across the net. Sound effects aside, the two engaged in a few rallies that brought ovations from the fans.
At 5-4 in the second set, Williams set up triple-match point with a bruising backhand that landed near the baseline. Schiavone had no time to react and mis-hit it badly. Williams crouched, pumped her fist and roared. Two points later, she crushed a backhand return on Schiavone's second serve to secure the victory.
Dent and Hewitt, the 2001 men's champion, will play their third match this year. Dent beat the Aussie in his hometown of Adelaide, and Hewitt won at Wimbledon.
"I know what I'm going to get," Hewitt said. "It's just a matter of executing, going out there with a game plan and executing what I need to do out there. It's never easy playing against Taylor. He's going to give me a target and I've got to take my chances when I get them."