Serena sharp in victory
Published: Saturday, January 18, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 17, 2003 at 11:40 p.m.
MELBOURNE, Australia - One embarrassing swing-and-miss aside, Serena Williams is steadily sharpening her game as she draws within four victories of a ``Serena Slam.''
Williams needed only 46 minutes to beat Thailand's Tamarine Tanasugarn 6-1, 6-1 Saturday and advance to the fourth round of the Australian Open.
She hit 27 winners, but her eight errors included a complete miss on an overhead smash in the second set's first game.
Kim Clijsters, considered one of the most likely to stop Williams from winning a fourth consecutive Grand Slam tournament, won 6-2, 6-1 in 55 minutes against Tatiana Poutchek. She has lost just six games in six sets.
If she and Serena keep advancing, they would meet in the semifinals.
Meanwhile, Marat Safin, last year's runner-up, withdrew with a wrist injury from a fall in his first-round match. The 2000 U.S. Open champion's withdrawal sent No. 31 Rainer Schuettler into the fourth round.
Safin, who had been coming back from a shoulder injury, said an injection helped him through his second-round victory over Spain's Albert Montanes but afterward his left wrist swelled up badly.
Safin, a right-hander who hits a two-handed backhand, said it was diagnosed as a cut ligament.
``It's very bad luck because I started to play better and to fly 24 hours to get here without any success is not really good. But that's life,'' Safin said.
Williams won the French and U.S. Opens and Wimbledon last year.
``I've picked up my game. If I'd been at lower level it would have been a lot closer,'' said Williams, who came close to losing her first-round match against France's Emilie Loit.
The key is staying relaxed, she said.
``I'm a perfectionist and everything has to be perfect, so if it's not going like that on the practice court, then when I get out there for the match I tense up,'' she added.
On the missed overhead, Williams said, ``I didn't look at the ball, my head was down, my racket was up. It's kind of hard to hit the ball like that.''
She was expecting a hard year ``because a lot of people are after me, namely Venus, who wants to be No. 1 again.''
Older sister Venus is in the other half of the draw, and could meet Serena in their fourth consecutive Grand Slam final.
Clijsters, who beat both Williams sisters in a tournament last November, improved her record to 22 victories in 23 matches.
She has spent just 2¶ hours on the court in three rounds here, but also showed a perfectionist side, throwing down her racket after a miss when the 108th-ranked Poutchek, from Belarus, held serve in the second set's sixth game.
``I think I tried to do a little bit too much,'' she said.
At last year's French Open, the 19-year-old Belgian was extended to 8-6 in the final set before beating Poutchek.
``I was really ready for revenge,'' she said.
Clijsters had a similar start here last year, losing only 15 games in five matches before losing to eventual champion Jennifer Capriati in the semifinals. Capriati lost in the first round this year.
No. 25 Meghann Shaughnessy won 6-1, 6-3 against Czech player Klara Koukalova, who narrowly beat out No. 6 Monica Seles in the second round after Seles sprained her ankle in the third game.
On the men's side, No. 6 Roger Federer ousted the last surviving qualifier, Sweden's Andreas Vinciguerra, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2.
Wimbledon runner-up David Nalbandian advanced when No. 20 Xavier Malisse withdrew because of fatigue. No. 10 Nalbandian was leading 4-6, 6-2, 6-0, 3-0.
On Friday, Andre Agassi needed every shot in his repertoire to beat hard-hitting Nicolas Escude.
Agassi scrambled, volleyed and swatted baseline winners off his shoelaces to win 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 and advance to the fourth round.
The three-time champion was coming off a match in which he won 18 straight games. Against Escude, Agassi was constantly in trouble but was able to extend his winning streak in the tournament to 17 matches.
``It was good to be out there a little longer, test yourself, put yourself in a lot of tough situations,'' said Agassi, the Australian Open champion in 1995, 2000 and '01.
``The fact that I'm still alive means I can use this for some more progress,'' he added.
Venus Williams had an easier match but still struggled at times.
Williams, winner of four Grand Slam events and runner-up to sister Serena in the last three, trailed 1-4, 0-40 in the second, before pulling away to beat Germany's Anca Barna 6-1, 6-4.
``I finally decided to miss a lot less,'' Williams said.
Lindsay Davenport, the 2000 winner, advanced to the fourth round, routing No. 24 Tatiana Panova of Russia 6-2, 6-1.
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