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Serena says practice might be in her cards



Published: Mon, June 27, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The younger Williams suffered her earliest Grand Slam loss in six years.

WIMBLEDON, England (AP) -- Between sniffles and tears after her earliest Grand Slam loss in more than six years, Serena Williams appeared to have a moment of clarity.

Just a couple of days earlier, after a second straight escape at Wimbledon, Williams was stone-faced as she talked about still being the favorite and having a mental edge over everyone else.

Was she trying to convince others or herself?

Now, that stoic veneer gone after a 6-3, 7-6 (4) defeat against 85th-ranked Jill Craybas in the third round, Williams acknowledged for the first time that perhaps she couldn't get by on talent and reputation alone.

"I definitely think it's important for me to practice harder than what I have been," Williams said Saturday night. "I've never been big on practicing. I've kind of just been all about playing."

Craybas vs. Venus

When action resumes today at the All England Club after the middle Sunday's traditional day of rest, it will be Craybas facing Venus Williams for a spot in the quarterfinals, instead of another Williams vs. Williams meeting at a major.

The other women's round-of-16 matchups include No. 1 Lindsay Davenport vs. four-time major finalist Kim Clijsters, defending champion Maria Sharapova vs. No. 16 Nathalie Dechy, and No. 6 Elena Dementieva vs. No. 9 Anastasia Myskina in a rematch of the 2004 French Open final.

Much attention has been paid to the elder Williams' decline in recent seasons, all the way down to 16th in the rankings after four full years without a major championship.

Sister slump

But this time it's little sis who looks far removed from the days of being No. 1 and winning seven Grand Slam titles, including four in a row in 2002-03.

Although she wouldn't use it as an excuse, Williams was hampered by a left ankle injury, one that had limited her to one match in more than two months before arriving in England.

More telling was the way she gasped for air after lengthy points even early in the match against Craybas, much as she did while being extended to three sets by 104th-ranked Angela Haynes in the first round and 124th-ranked Mara Santangelo in the second.

Since winning the Australian Open at the start of the season, Williams is without a title and has just 10 victories -- none against a top 10 player -- and five losses.

Other players have gotten stronger and fitter and aren't as intimidated against Williams. Injuries and time away from tennis spent on acting and clothing design haven't helped her cause.

Less intensity

Plus, as Fred Haynes put it after his up-and-coming daughter pushed around the established Williams in the first round: "You're not going to run 15 miles a day when you have $30 million in the bank. The intensity level is just not going to be there."

As good as top-ranked Roger Federer is, his streak of reaching the second week at tennis' four biggest tournaments extends only to last year's French Open. But on grass, and at Wimbledon, he looks and feels rather invincible.

He's won 32 matches in a row on the surface, 17 at the All England Club.

Asked whether anything less than a third straight Wimbledon title, something accomplished only by Bjorn Borg and Pete Sampras in the past 60 years, would be OK with him, Federer's answer was direct:

"No, probably not. I wouldn't be satisfied," he said. "For me, only the win would be satisfying this year, the way I've been playing."

Today, he'll face past French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero. Other fourth-round matchups include No. 2 Andy Roddick vs. 2004 French Open runner-up Guillermo Coria, and 2002 Wimbledon champion Lleyton Hewitt vs. No. 24 Taylor Dent.




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