Youth prevailed over experience in the tournament’s first non-stop grunt-fest tonight, with 17-year-old Serena Williams sweeping aside 24-year-old Monica Seles to advance to her first ever Grand Slam semi final.
On a night when the squealing on Arthur Ashe Stadium soared to deafening new levels, Serena kept her father Richard’s prediction of a Williams-Williams singles final alive, dismissing the two-time US Open champion in three sets 4/6, 6/3, 6/2.
Competing here for only the second time, the sixth-seeded Williams made up for her comparative lack of Grand Slam experience (this was Seles’ ninth appearance), with an impressive mix of stamina and aggressive power.
Watched by a capacity crowd that included crooner Harry Connick Jr, the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards (donning his very own beaded hairdo), New York Jets football star Keyshawn Johnson and six-time US Open singles winner Chris Evert, Williams pounded down 49 winners and 15 aces enroute to the stunning victory.
“I’ve been waiting a long time for this. I’ve played for two years on the tour, and done nothing in the Slams until now,” said Williams, who has now played three consecutive three setters – against Kim Clijsters in the third round (where she recovered from a 3/5 deficit in the final set) and Conchita Martinez in the fourth round. Until tonight, the furthest she had progressed in a Grand Slam was the fourth round at Roland Garros last year.
In typical fashion, Williams took a while to begin firing on all cylinders this evening – allowing Seles took break the her sometimes erratic serve in the third and seventh games, and close out the first set in 36 minutes.
Williams harnessed the power that had been her downfall early on, racing away to 4/0 lead in the second set, before Seles staged a mini comeback, breaking twice to scrape back to 3/4. Williams conceded just two games to the nine-time Grand Slam singles champion, who in the end ran out of steam.
“I was a little nervous to start out. Being my first Grand Slam quarterfinal, I put too much pressure on myself. But in the second set I completely calmed down, and I hit 15 aces..wow! This was a great crowd. I had a lot of support. I though that most of the crowd would be for her but it was pretty even,” said Williams, who was just seven years old when the then 15-year-old Seles competed in her first US Open in 1989.
“It was always a goal, but now it’s really coming true I’ve been working hard for so long, practicing for years, since I was four years old, and I’m very excited that my work is finally paying off,” said Williams with all the maturity of a player twice her age.
“I’m wiser and overall a better player today I have the attitude that I’m not going to lose. I was convinced that I was going to do well here, I was very mentally prepared.”
“There are no excuses, she was just a better player today,” was Seles simple analysis. “She’s definitely playing some great tennis, and she’s had a fantastic Summer. She’s physically a lot stronger than I am, she gets more balls back and her reach is much better. There are some players who when you play them, you can sense that one day they’ll be great players,” said Seles, the winner here in 1991 and 1992 and a finalist in 1995 and 1996. A semi finalist at this year’s Australian and French Open’s, Seles says she still doesn’t think about whether her career is at the crossroads: “Being number four in the world, I’m pretty happy, and the world is pretty big, so I don’t think about it at all!” said Seles.
Said Williams about her impending semi final against defending champion Lindsay Davenport: “I personally believe I have one of the best forehands, right up there with Steffi (Graf). Even on a bad day, I’m tough to beat. Lindsay hits the ball really hard and so do I, so it will be great. It’s exciting for women’s tennis. Once again, we’re carrying the men’s tennis,” joked a cheeky Williams.
“My dad has been right about a lot of things, you have to admit it.”