Russian Tennis Hopes Going Strong

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SYDNEY, Australia Venus Williams clinched at least a silver in womens Olympic tennis and extended her winning streak to 31 matches by beating Monica Seles 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 in an all-American semifinal Monday.

The second-seeded Williams opponent in the final will be No. 10 Yelena Dementieva, who beat unseeded home-crowd favorite Jelena Dokic 2-6, 6-4, 6-4. The third-seeded Seles will play for the bronze.

Williams, winner of Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles, said her appreciation of the Olympics has grown since she arrived in Sydney.

"Its 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."

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

"That was last year. This is different," Dementieva said. "Shes playing very well now. I dont know if I can beat her, but Im happy to be in the final."

Williams advanced to the semifinals in doubles with her sister Serena by beating top-seeded Julie Halard-Decugis and Amelie Mauresmo of France 6-3, 6-2.

In the mens quarterfinals, fifth-seeded Yevgeny Kafelnikov of Russia beat No. 2 Gustavo Kuerten of Brazil 6-4, 7-5. Kafelnikov, the only seeded player in the semifinals, will next play Arnaud Di Pasquale of France, who beat No. 8 Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain 6-2, 6-1.

The other semifinal pits Tommy Haas of Germany against Roger Federer of Switzerland. Haas rallied past Max Mirnyi of Belarus 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, and Federer eliminated Karim Alami of Morocco 7-6 (2), 6-1.

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 her 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 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.