The French Open is 10 days away and Serena Williams' clay-court game is rounding into shape.
Williams appeared frustrated at times but eventually overpowered 11th-seeded Shahar Peer 6-3, 6-3 to reach the quarterfinals of the Italian Open on Thursday.
"I feel like everything is coming together," Williams said. "I'm doing everything to stay healthy. That's my goal this year, to stay healthy."
Peer pushed Williams deep into the third set when the two players met in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open in January. "It was definitely a good test. She plays a little like (Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario). She gets a lot of balls back," Williams said. "I knew she was going to be a tough opponent on clay. I thought I did pretty well."
Williams resurrected her career by winning the year's first Grand Slam in Australia. She and Roger Federer on the men's side have a shot at completing a Grand Slam if they win the remaining three majors this season.
"Hopefully I'll be playing seven rounds in Paris and winning seven matches. Then after that I'm going to the next Grand Slam," Williams said. "Only two people can do it this year, so I'm one of those two."
Williams came close to the Grand Slam in 2002, winning three majors, but sat out the Australian Open. She completed her so-called "Serena Slam" by winning in Melbourne at the start of 2003. Peer's quickness matched Williams' power at the start and neither player held serve until Williams took a 4-2 lead in the first set. Eventually, Williams' strength won out and she improved to 18-2 this year.
"I've been working out. During the clay-court season you have to get yourself in better shape," Williams said. "All the matches last about a half-hour longer than usual."
Early in the second set, Williams slammed a ball that barely missed hitting a line judge, earning a warning from the chair umpire.
"I felt so bad. Thank God I didn't hit her," Williams said. "Obviously I was not going for the line judge. But that's what happens when you lose your temper, you can take someone out." The incident occurred after Williams missed a first serve. "I didn't serve well at all today," she said. "I don't think I got one first serve in during that game. But usually when I serve bad at the beginning of a tournament it gets better." Williams could have another tough test in her next round against 14th-seeded Patty Schnyder, who beat Samantha Stosur 6-4, 6-4. "She plays really well on the clay and she's really tricky," Williams said of Schnyder, who was runner-up to Amelie Mauresmo here two years ago.
Mauresmo was upset by Stosur on Wednesday.
Third-seeded Jelena Jankovic beat Alona Bondarenko 6-4, 7-5. Jankovic dropped her serve three times in the second set but held the first time she served for the match.
Jankovic will next face Elena Dementieva, who advanced when fifth-seeded Nadia Petrova retired with a lower back injury. After Dementieva broke to take a 4-3 lead in the first set, Petrova had a trainer come out and massage her back. Dementieva won the opening point in the next game and then Petrova called it quits. "I had an accident in the gym before the tournament," Petrova said. "It was getting better but then when I ran for a ball in the match today I felt a sharp pain."
Also, last year's runner-up Dinara Safina beat Kateryna Bondarenko, sister of Alona, 6-2, 6-3, and No. 9 Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia eliminated No. 7 Anna Chakvetadze of Russia 6-2, 6-3. Second-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova squandered a 5-3 first-set lead before beating Ukrainian lucky loser Yuliana Fedak 7-6 (4), 6-1, and setting up a rematch with Russian compatriot Safina. Kuznetsova, at a career-high No. 3 ranking with three finals appearances this year, lost to Safina in last year's Rome semifinals.
Anabel Medina Garrigues of Spain, the only non-seed to make the last eight, ended the run of Italy's last hope, Nathalie Vierin, 6-1, 6-1 and faces Hantuchova next.