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Erratic Venus makes round of 16

Likhovtseva is no match for Williams, even on an off-day

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WIMBLEDON, England — As she waited for each serve, Venus Williams crouched at the baseline and swayed from side to side, as if being tugged in two directions.

On one point she would look brilliant, like the Williams who dominated women's tennis the second half of last year. On the next point she would smack the sort of wild shot that has undermined her game in recent months.

It's a testament to Williams' enormous talent that she can play erratically and still easily beat a top-30 player. She did precisely that Saturday in the third round at Wimbledon, eliminating Elena Likhovtseva 6-2, 6-2.

"I feel like I can get the job done even if I'm not playing my best," the defending champion said. "I just enjoy playing. I love this tournament. I don't feel any pressure, and I'm happy that I don't. I know a lot of players do."

But the pressure intensifies next week, when Williams' potential obstacles to the final include 1999 champion Lindsay Davenport, French Open runner-up Kim Clijsters and Jelena Dokic.

All won easily Saturday, and all will play Monday in the round of 16, along with Jennifer Capriati and Serena Williams in the other half of the draw. Top-ranked Martina Hingis, upset in the opening round, will be the only title contender missing. None of the others has lost a set yet.

"Obviously these are much bigger tests that are coming up," Davenport said. She advanced with little fanfare, as usual, beating Patty Schnyder 6-2, 6-3. Clijsters quietly eased past Angeles Montolio 7-5, 6-2.

But Dokic made waves after beating Barbara Schett 6-3, 7-5, complaining that she was forced to hail a taxi for her 10-minute trip to the All England Club. Dokic said she arrived just before her match because the car she expected Wimbledon to provide never showed up at her hotel.

"If you can't organize something like that, you can't run a tournament," Dokic said.

Wimbledon responded with a news release defending its "efficient and friendly" transportation service.

Dokic was also upset about a London tabloid's preview of her match under a headline that referred to her father as "the Beast." Damir Dokic was thrown out of Wimbledon last year and banned from tournaments by the WTA for six months because of volatile behavior.

"It was a really nasty article," she said. "It's really not funny anymore. I think it was as bad as it could get."

On the men's side, there were no inflammatory headlines or transportation problems and only one upset. Guillermo Canas became the first Argentine to reach the fourth round since 1979, beating No. 7-seeded Yevgeny Kafelnikov 3-6, 6-1, 6-3, 7-6 (2).

Andre Agassi, seeking the title he says he wants most, beat Nicolas Massu 6-3, 6-1, 6-1. Australians Patrick Rafter and Lleyton Hewitt also won.

"With the level of players that are still left in this event, I think it's safe to say that a number of guys can win it," Agassi said.

The first showdown of top women's contenders will be Monday, when Davenport plays Dokic.

They met in the semifinals at Wimbledon last year and in the first round at this year's Australian Open, with Davenport winning both times. But the 18-year-old Dokic has a 12-2 record at Wimbledon and has been touted as a future Grand Slam tournament champion.

"It's going to be a tough match, but I'm certainly not fearful," said Davenport, who missed the French Open because of a knee injury. "I thought I played great today and was really going after my shots."

Williams went for her shots, too, but often missed. Fans roared when she took two steps into the court and ripped a swinging volley for a winner, then groaned when she sailed a forehand six feet long.

"Really, once you get in the more important matches, you would like to close out those kind of things and not make those errors," Williams said. "I know it's something I can clean up."

Likhovtseva twice had a point to reach 3-3 in the first set before Williams found the range and ran off 14 consecutive points, smacking a series of winners from all over the court.

In the second set Williams lost the groove again. She double-faulted twice to lose serve at love and fall behind 2-1, then struggled through a 12-point game before holding for 5-2.

Likhovtseva, a tour veteran at 25, nonetheless seemed unnerved by the Centre Court spotlight. Her errors steadily mounted and she double-faulted on the final two points, with Williams at the opposite end of the court, still swaying from side to side.