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Venus rising but Serena is in the way

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NEW YORK, Sept 4 (AFP) - The 14th running of the friendliest family feud in tennis marks the middle Sunday of the US Open.

The Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, were matched in the tournament's fourth round, the earliest they have met since their first professional encounter at the Australian Open in 1998.

Both have been verbally jousting following their third round wins, but the feeling remains that an all-Williams match-up somehow lacks a cutting edge to it.

Sunday's encounter though does throw in some intriguing prospects.

Apart from being much earlier in the tournament than they usually meet, both have won one Grand Slam each this year - Serena in Australia and Venus at Wimbledon.

And for the first time in a while, 25-year-old Venus will start as favourite having played second fiddle to her 23-year-old sister for the last three years.

Serena says it is no accident that Venus is back playing near her best.

"It wasn't all of a sudden. Venus has been working hard for quite some time now to turn this thing around," she said.

"She's been working. She's always in the gym. She's always running miles. She's always practicing.

"I take a different route. I don't practice as much as her."

Preceding the Williams sisters on the Arthur Ashe Stadium center court was the top seed Maria Sharapova in a battle of big-hitting 18-year-olds against the pride of India Sania Mirza.

Sharapova has lost just nine games in her three outings so far, but Mirza has said she has nothing to lose and will not be overawed by her Russian opponent.

Mirza's progress will be avidly followed back home where she has achieved the rare distinction of elbowing the ever-present cricket out of the main sports headlines.

Tournament favourite Kim Clijsters of Belgium opens the evening session on the main court against Venezuela's Maria Vento-Kabchi by which time she will know which of the Williams sisters she will likely encounter in the last eight.

Third seed Australian Lleyton Hewitt opens the day on the main showcourt in a third round tie against one of four remaining Americans Taylor Dent, a player against whom he has had some bruising and at times ill-tempered encounters.

Closing the day will be top seeded Roger Federer who has yet to drop a set going up against one of the smallest players on the men's circuit, Olivier Rochus of Belgium



COPYRIGHT 2005 Agence France-Presse. All rights reserved.

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