DUBAI, 3 March 2005 — Serena Williams overcame an early scare in windy conditions to beat Russia’s Elena Bovina in three sets to reach the last eight of the Dubai Open here yesterday.
The former winner of all four Grand Slams came through 1-6, 6-1, 6-4 but she was tense and erratic in the first set in only her first match since being taken ill in Paris a fortnight ago and only her second victory since losing the Australian Open final a month ago.
So rattled was Serena by her early difficulties on her first visit to the Middle East that she smashed a racket and was given a code-of-conduct warning for abuse of equipment.
She was hooted for the code violation and then jeered for her reaction to it, and after losing the next point she waved her arms as though she were orchestrating the jeers.
However, after the second-seeded superstar got into the match, she struck some blistering winners, which won over most of the spectators, and soon they were cheering her victory enthusiastically.
“I think I was trying to kill myself out there,” said the younger Williams sister.
“It was really windy and I had not played in the wind for a while and all my shots were whistling out. It was a shock.
“I wasn’t used to the conditions — balls were hitting the fence and out and into the net. I had to kind of gather myself. And it became a great experience with a great crowd and I was really excited,” she said.
Bovina’s best moments came not so much in the first set, which was gifted to her, but in the third where she retained enough self-possession to recover from the storm of losing ten games out of 11 to make a reasonably close finish of it. She also recovered from 0-4 down to 4-5, with a bold commitment to counter-attack, even when it was into the mouth of the cannon, and this policy earned her a break of service in the sixth game.
But she couldn’t repeat the achievement, Serena closing out the match to love in a game containing an ace, a service winner and one forehand, which almost punctured the ball.
It earned the tournament’s biggest draw a match with Daniela Hantuchova, the tour’s comeback heroine.
The former world No. 5, whose career was threatened by personal problems and weight difficulties as she plunged from the top 50, continued an encouraging revival with a win over Elena Likhovtseva.
Hantuchova’s 7-5, 6-4 success over the Russian earned her a third quarterfinal of 2005, already an improvement on 2004 during which she only managed two all year.
Serena Williams is seeded for another final with Lindsay Davenport, which would give her a revenge attempt for her defeat in the Australian Open final.
The top-seeded American came through with a comfortable 6-2, 7-5 win over Zheng Jie, a Chinese qualifier, and now plays Conchita Martinez, the former Wimbledon champion from Spain.
She beat Nathalie Dechy, the No. 7 seed from France, by 6-1, 6-2.
If Serena wins again in the bottom half she could play the 18-year-old Indian giantkiller Sania Mirza, who downed the US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova on Tuesday and next plays Jelena Jankovic, an unseeded Serbian.
The other quarterfinal in the top half is between Anastasia Myskina, the French Open champion from Russia and Patty Schnyder, the eighth seed from Switzerland.