Williams reaches Bank of the West final with hard-fought win

July 31, 2005 12:30 AM
Venus Williams of the USA returns a shot against Patty Schnyder of Switzerland during the semi-finals at the Bank of the West Classic tennis tournament at Stanford University on July 30, 2005 in Palo Alto, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)© Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
STANFORD, Calif. (AP) _ After a poor first set, Venus Williams glanced at the tiny television below the umpire's chair and instantly knew the problem.

Her unforced errors: 18. Patty Schnyder's unforced errors: 8.

Williams saved five match points in the second set and overcame her inconsistent ground game, rallying for a 2-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2 victory over Schnyder on Saturday to reach the final of the Bank of the West Classic.

``It just seems as soon as disaster comes, I somehow find a way out of it,'' Williams said. ``I didn't feel I was really on my game. My feet were slow and she played really well. You have to have that little extra step and I didn't feel like I had that today. I had to fight myself to get it out of me.''

She will play for the championship against fourth-seeded Kim Clijsters, a 6-4, 6-0 winner over Anna-Lena Groenefeld in Saturday's late match.

The second-seeded Williams will play her 500th career match Sunday in the very tournament where she made her debut 11 years ago, when it was in Oakland.

Williams came back Saturday by doing what she does best: dictating the pace, showing patience and winning big points with athletic putaways at the net.

She looked tired at times and struggled with her serve in her first tournament since winning Wimbledon in dramatic fashion earlier this month against Lindsay Davenport, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 9-7 in the longest women's final at the All England Club _ 2 hours, 45 minutes.

This one lasted 2:02, with the second set taking an hour. Williams raised both arms and managed a big smile after hitting a backhand winner down the line on match point. Moments later, she was out of breath and slouching with her hands on her hips on a warm Bay Area afternoon.

``I just tried to stay positive and not float away mentally,'' said Williams, who was bothered by the sun on her serve. ``I'm at the end of the line, I've arrived in the finals. It's good for me. Got to see what's left tomorrow. And even if there's nothing left like today, I'll still find something. I just wanted to win.''

Serving to start the second set, Williams faced six deuces before holding. Still, she gave Schnyder plenty of opportunities. Williams broke for 4-2, then gave away her next service game with three straight double faults.

Schnyder kept creeping back, breaking for a 6-5 lead. In the next game, Williams saved five match points to force a tiebreaker. She jumped to a 5-0 lead in the tiebreaker.

On the first match point, Schnyder missed a backhand long and said she became nervous. She double-faulted several points later to squander another chance, though she thought her first serve to the corner was in for an ace.

``If you come back from five match points and you're Venus Williams and you've come back from a Wimbledon title, there's no way you're going to lose,'' Schnyder said.

A rematch of the Wimbledon final became impossible when top-seeded Davenport, the world No. 1 and defending champion of this event, retired in the first set of her opening match Thursday against Groenefeld with a strained lower back. Davenport beat Williams for the title here in 2004.

Since Wimbledon _ her first major title in four years _ Williams had only a handful of chances to practice because of numerous appearances all over the country and the debut of her reality TV show with sister Serena, who has been in the stands this week cheering for her.

Schnyder, a Swiss lefty seeded third, had a seven-match winning streak and won at Cincinnati last weekend. She has never beaten Williams in six tries. She hadn't won a set against the 10th-ranked Williams since the 1998 Grand Slam Cup final _ the only set Schnyder has won against the 25-year-old American. They hadn't met in nearly three years.

``To me, it's great to be with her, be so close and challenge her that much,'' Schnyder said. ``There's not much I would change next time. I would be pleased to play like this every day.''

Williams improved to 32-8 this year. She is 6-2 lifetime against Clijsters, and Williams retired in one of the two losses. She has won the last three meetings.

Clijsters had her serve broken to fall behind 4-3 in the first set, then won nine straight games to win the match.

Groenefeld, a 20-year-old German who beat sixth-seeded Nathalie Dechy in three sets to reach the semis, hit serves up to 120 mph.