Williams Beats Seles, Goes to Gold Medal Match

Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles are

nice, but Venus Williams says her next match may be the biggest

yet.

The hottest player in tennis advanced to the Olympic final and extended her winning streak to 31 matches by beating Monica Seles 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 today (Sunday night ET).

Williams said her appreciation of the Olympics has grown since she arrived in Sydney.

“It’s probably bigger than a Grand Slam,” she said. “This is possibly a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Everyone is coming out and playing their best. It seems the ultimate thing is to have a gold.”

Next Up: Dementieva

The second-seeded Williams’ opponent in the final Wednesday will be No. 10 Elena Dementieva of Russia, who beat unseeded Australian Jelena Dokic 2-6, 6-4, 6-4. The third-seeded Seles will play Dokic for the bronze.

Dementieva, 18, was a semifinalist at this year’s U.S. Open. She won her only previously match against Williams last year in Fed Cup.

“That was last year. This is different,” Dementieva said. “She’s playing very well now. I don’t know if I can beat her, but I’m happy to be in the final.”

Williams also remained in contention for the gold in doubles with her sister Serena.

Two unseeded players, Arnaud Di Pasquale of France and Tommy Haas of Germany, reached the men’s semifinals. Di Pasquale beat No. 8 Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain 6-2, 6-1. Haas rallied past Max Mirnyi of Belarus 4-6, 7-5, 6-3.

Rushing the Net

Williams and Seles played the first match of the day before a subdued center court crowd. The gray, damp, chilly weather was reminiscent of Wimbledon, and so was Williams’ performance.

She came to the net more than in previous matches at Sydney, and her power forced Seles to rush shots and often hit off balance.

“That was a tough match,” Seles said. “Venus played really well, and at the end it got really close, but she played the key points better.”

The first set in the all-American semifinal took just 18 minutes. Williams led 4-2 in the second set, then began to struggle with her serve, double-faulting five times in the next two service games — including twice on break point — to lose the set.

Williams regained her poise in the final set. She whacked three consecutive aces for a 3-1 lead, then erased two break points with big serves in the eighth game for a 5-3 lead. On the first match point, she belted a backhand winner down the line to complete the victory.

“I had some rough patches, and it could have gone either way,” Williams said. “Usually when it comes down to it, I’m able to close it out in important matches.”

Seles was once the hardest hitter in women’s tennis, but no more. She fell to 0-5 against Williams.

U.S. coach Billie Jean King, wary of showing favoritism for either player in her reactions, watched the match from the players’ dining room rather than the stands.

“Venus seems to be tired, but she has been able to perform when she needs to perform,” King said. “When she needed it, she was able to turn the flame up.”

Williams advanced to the semifinal Sunday with a 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 victory over Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario. Williams lost to Sanchez-Vicario at the French Open, then began her winning streak, which has included titles at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

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