Serena edges Venus in all-Williams U.S. Open quarter

NEW YORK — Serena Williams watched the final shot sail beyond the baseline, and immediately her sister called for an instant-replay challenge.

At that point, Venus Williams really had nothing else to lose.

So more than 20,000 fans hushed Wednesday night, looking at the giant video boards high above Arthur Ashe Stadium. A moment later, the call was confirmed and the crowd roared: Serena had won this family affair at the U.S. Open.

It may have been only a quarterfinal, but on the court and in the stands, it sounded as if they were playing for the title as the shrieks and shouts kept getting louder and louder.

"I don't think it'll ever be underdramatized until we're housewives," Venus said. "Until that time, we'll hopefully keep playing good tennis against everyone and also against each other."

With a semifinal spot at stake, the sisters who teamed to win the Olympic gold medal in doubles were separated by the slightest of margins. Serena finished ahead in total points 101-98, and most every other number was close.

Only one stat was out of whack: Venus went 0-for-10 on set points, Serena was 2-for-2.

"I thought for sure we'd be in three sets," Serena said. "I thought, 'I'm going to go change my dress because I'm really sweaty and put a new one on.' And then I was like, 'Oh, maybe I won't have to do that.'"

Top-seeded Rafael Nadal worked late into the night — and the early morning — to reach the semifinals at the U.S. Open for the first time in six tries at Flushing Meadows.

In a match that started at 11:30 p.m. and ended at 2:10 a.m., the Wimbledon, French Open and Olympic champion beat unseeded Mardy Fish 3-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-2. They approached the latest finish in the tournament's history — Mats Wilander defeated Mikael Pernfors at 2:26 a.m. in 1993 — and moved on to play Andy Murray.

The sixth-seeded Murray beat No. 17 Juan Martin del Potro 7-6 (2), 7-6 (1), 4-6, 7-5. The young stars put their arms around each other at the net after Murray reached his first Grand Slam semifinal, quite a different scene than they presented at Rome in May.

Sixth-seeded Dinara Safina advanced earlier in the day by overwhelming No. 16 Flavia Pennetta 6-2, 6-3. Safina will play No. 4 Serena Williams in one semifinal Friday, with No. 2 Jelena Jankovic taking on No. 5 Elena Dementieva in the other.

Roger Federer tries to keep up his run at a fifth straight U.S. Open title when he plays qualifier Gilles Muller in the quarterfinals this afternoon. Andy Roddick plays Novak Djokovic at night.

By far, the Williams vs. Williams contest was the most-anticipated match at the tournament. Posters of the sisters were plastered over the subways and trains in New York — all paths led to this meeting.

When it was over, Serena had one real regret, and it wasn't that she beat her sister. After all, Venus defeated Serena this summer for the Wimbledon title.

"I feel like I should have a trophy now. Unfortunately I don't, and I got to go to the next round," Serena said.

She rallied from 5-3 deficits in both sets, and overcame eight set points in the second.

"I felt like I was always in control," seventh-seeded Venus said. "If it was someone else, I definitely feel like I would have won the match."

The victory nudged Serena into a 9-8 edge in their career matchups as pro, and she's now ahead 6-5 in Grand Slam meetings. She also leads her older sister 8-7 in major titles — they're both two-time U.S. Open champs.

"She made a couple errors and it was really luck for me because she never makes those errors. I can't say that I was disappointed. I obviously want the best for her, but in that situation you want to win, too," she said.

Along with charging net, she relied on another strategy.

"I try not to look at her, because if I look at her, I might start feeling sorry," Serena told the crowd afterward.

Venus seemed more surprised than anything, especially at letting so many chances slip away.

"I'm a very good closer," she said, "so today was, um — I've never had a match like this in my life, so I guess there's always a first."

Neither their mother nor father, who both serve as their coaches, were sitting in the family box. Older sister Isha Price was there, and she sometimes sat with her hands clasped in front of her face, her eyes shut.

"I wasn't praying, I was so stressed," she said. "It is so difficult to watch them. At the end of the day, you want them to play a good match and for the best person to win."

And did the best player win?

"I'm not sure," Price said.

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