WIMBLEDON, England (AP) – Venus Williams giggled and hopped on her toes Wednesday, looking more like a kid who just won her first match than a veteran who just beat Maria Sharapova in a showdown of Grand Slam champions at Wimbledon’s Centre Court.
Up in the players’ guest box, Williams’ father jumped for joy, too, thrusting his arms in the air repeatedly.
Two hours later, the setting and the family were the same, yet the mood was far more subdued. Younger sister Serena shuffled off to the locker room, having lost to No. 1 Justine Henin in the quarterfinals at a second consecutive major.
What could have been another wonderful day for the Williams clan at the All England Club was only half so: After three-time Wimbledon champion Venus overwhelmed Sharapova 6-1, 6-3, two-time Wimbledon champion Serena couldn’t overcome her own poor health or a determined Henin in a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 defeat.
“I wasn’t even sure if I was going to go out and play,” said Serena, who played with tape on her left calf and left thumb, both injured in her dramatic fourth-round victory Monday. “If I’d have been healthy, I think I would have won, 100 percent.”
Managing to be slightly more gracious than after losing to Henin at the French Open – “All she had to do was show up,” was the postmatch assessment then – Serena said Wednesday: “She played a very high-quality game. I thought she played probably some of her best tennis.”
Adventurous tennis, as well, especially late. Trailing 15-30 while serving in the final game, Henin won a 10-stroke rally with a drop shot. She serve-and-volleyed on her first match point, though that didn’t work. It ended when Serena sent a backhand long.
Despite acknowledging that she battled nerves late, Henin moved two victories away from her first Wimbledon title, which would complete a career Grand Slam.
Henin next meets No. 18 Marion Bartoli, who reached her first Grand Slam semifinal by coming back to beat No. 31 Michaella Krajicek 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 after taking a nap during a rain delay.
Henin acknowledged she still has “a lot of work to do,” and Serena would agree. Asked whether she thought she lost to the eventual champion, Serena said: “The eventual Wimbledon champion I saw playing in the fourth round today, definitely.”
That, of course, would be Venus, who was pretty close to flawless against 2004 champion Sharapova.
She averaged 115 mph on first serves and reached 126 mph. She won 33 of 42 points on her serve and only once was taken to deuce. She compiled a 9-3 advantage on points that lasted at least 10 strokes.
“You’ve got to give her credit,” the second-seeded Sharapova said. “Her average first serve was 115, and some men don’t do that.”
They played all of three points Tuesday at 800-seat Court 3 before the fourth-round match was suspended because of rain. They resumed at 13,000-plus Centre Court on Wednesday, then had to deal with a rain delay of nearly two hours that came in the middle of an epic game at 1-1 in the second set.
Sharapova was serving, and the game featured 13 deuces and seven break points, filled with high-pitched grunts and high-powered groundstrokes. The shrieks, so loud at both ends of the court, drew snickers from spectators.
Eventually, Sharapova held and again for a 3-2 lead in the set, but she wouldn’t win another game.
Even though there were showers on an eighth of the tournament’s nine days, all seven singles matches on Wednesday’s schedule were completed, making it more likely that the men’s and women’s titles will be decided on time.
Second-seeded Rafael Nadal finally wrapped up a victory over No. 28 Robin Soderling in a third-round match that was supposed to start Saturday. No. 4 Novak Djokovic also reached the fourth round, while No. 3 Andy Roddick and No. 12 Richard Gasquet set up a quarterfinal meeting.
For Venus, it was a masterful performance against a tough competitor. Given that Venus owns five major titles, that shouldn’t be surprising at all. Given that she was two points from defeat against 59th-ranked Alla Kudryavtseva in the first round and was down 5-3 in the final set against 71st-ranked Akiko Morigami in the third, it was surprising.
“Well, that happens. That’s tennis. That’s life,” said Venus, who meets No. 5 Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarterfinals. “What mattered is that I got through it. It built character.”
She has plenty of that nowadays, at 27 and a pro since 1994. Injuries have kept her off court in recent years, a reason she’s ranked 31st and faced Sharapova so early.
“In my whole life, I’ve been a big-match player,” Venus said. “It wasn’t the ideal draw for her.”
The Williams’ father, Richard, is rarely shy about expressing an opinion and had plenty to offer after watching Venus win.
“I think she can be a champion until she’s 34, I really do,” he said. “I’ll tell you something else I believe: I don’t think you’ve seen the best of Venus.”
Another thought he shared: He didn’t want Serena to play Henin because of her injuries.
“If Serena was in her right mind,” Richard Williams said, “she’d go home.”
A little while later, she was headed that way. Done in singles, she withdrew from doubles, where the sisters were competing for the first time since 2003.
Henin’s coach, Carlos Rodriguez, said it was tough for the Belgian to figure out how to approach a match against an opponent whose fitness was in question.
“I wasn’t really focused on what did happen on the other side of the net,” Henin said.