-- The quaint village of Wimbledon was choked with exhaust fumes from the Range Rovers, BMWs and tour buses that ferried fans to the All England Lawn Tennis club on Wednesday morning, a miserable byproduct of the transit strike that gripped London the night before.
Pity the late arrivals mired in traffic who hoped to see the latest installment of defending champion Serena Williams's rivalry with Jennifer Capriati. The most-anticipated women's quarterfinal of the tournament lasted a mere 45 minutes, with Williams eviscerating her countrywoman, 6-1, 6-1, in a match that was even more lopsided than the score suggested.
Williams knocked a lethargic Capriati back on her heels with powerful, well-placed serves; blistering service returns; and deep, angled groundstrokes that careered out of reach. Williams won 76 percent of points on her first serve and was broken just once while breaking Capriati five times in six service games.
"Since I've been playing her, I've been trying to come out strong, and I always seem to come out slow," Williams explained. "So that's what I tried to do: Come out strong and smokin'."
It was Williams's most decisive victory over Capriati since they first faced off in 1999 and her biggest win since undergoing knee surgery last August. And even a sullen Capriati conceded that there's not a woman capable of denying Williams her third consecutive Wimbledon championship if she continues playing this well.
"If she can play like that, you know, every time -- I mean, that's too good," Capriati said.
Williams is hoping to become the first woman since Steffi Graf to win three consecutive Wimbledon titles. Two more hurdles remain. First, she must beat France's Amelie Mauresmo, a victor over Argentina's Paola Suarez on Wednesday, in the semifinals. Then she would face Lindsay Davenport, Wimbledon's 1999 champion, or the 17-year-old Russian phenom Maria Sharapova in Saturday's final.
"Everyone at some point in their career is beatable," Williams said, brushing off a suggestion that she is invincible on grass. "It's just a matter of staying humble."
Williams's thrashing of Capriati ought to silence critics who have carped that her acting pursuits are detracting from her game. But the bittersweet implication of her dominance is that the women's game, depleted by injury and burnout, offers her no worthy foil. Williams has yet to lose a set or remotely be tested in the tournament.
Also disheartening were Capriati's lackluster play and her petulance during a post-match interview, in which she laid partial blame for her loss on the gusting winds, the tournament's scheduling and the media, whom she faulted for focusing too much on her rivalry with Williams.
"When everyone's talking about it so much, it's very hard to just go out there and just completely focus on tennis," said Capriati, 28. "You know, it's like I can't walk around with earplugs in my ears, you know. . . . So maybe if you wouldn't talk about it so much, it would have been a better match, I don't know."
Their Centre Court meeting got off to a shaky start, with both spraying errors early. Capriati moved slowly and appeared distracted, but Williams was quick to summon her focus. Having lost to Capriati twice this year (in the quarterfinals of the French Open and in the semifinals of the Italian Open), she was in no mood to play nice.
Normally a fighter, Capriati reacted poorly after falling behind. She held serve in the opening game but barely mounted a challenge after that, scowling as Williams ripped returns past her time and again.
Though both are considered power hitters, Williams has the stronger serve and service return -- arguably her two best shots. While slow clay courts mute the advantage that gives her, grass courts accentuate Williams's power and skill. And the effect was more than Capriati could handle.
"I was just feeling so much pressure from her coming off the baseline, the serve," Capriati said. "Basically that's what her game plan was: to tee off on everything -- and she was on -- not to let me in it at all."
The first set zipped past in 23 minutes. Any notion that Capriati would summon her resolve was dashed straight away as Williams broke her again for a 2-0 lead in the second set.
Williams double-faulted twice in succession to hand Capriati a break in the third game. But instead of inspiring a Capriati comeback, the uncharacteristic glitch fired up Williams more. She won the next two games at love. And from there, it seemed that all Capriati wanted was to end the humiliation as quickly as possible, and she hastened her exit with sloppy shot-making.
It was hardly the battle fans expected to see. Of their previous 15 matches, 11 had been contested over three sets. Wednesday's match was no contest at all.
Fellow American Andy Roddick, who also advanced to the semifinals Wednesday, was asked if he had seen the Williams-Capriati match.
"No, I was in the bathroom," he quipped. "I came out, and it was done."