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Venus, Serena closer to face-off at Family Circle Cup in Charleston

Venus Williams kept up with sister Serena by winning a third-round match at the Family Circle Cup, moving one step closer to an all-Williams semifinal.

Venus Williams defeated Anastasia Rodionova 7-5, 6-2 Thursday, continuing her strong comeback from an autoimmune disease that kept her sidelined for more than six months.

Serena Williams also advanced to the quarterfinals, ousting Marina Erakovic 6-2, 6-2.

Venus Williams reached the final eight for the second straight tournament. She returned to action at the Sony Ericsson Open last week, winning four times before falling to eventual champion Agnieszka Radwanska.

Venus won her third match at her first clay-court tournament since 2010. She will take on second-seeded Samantha Stosur or Galina Voskoboeva on Friday. Stosur, the U.S. Open champion, and Voskoboeva play Thursday night.

Serena Williams isn't ready to look ahead to the semifinals and what could be the latest showdown with her older sister.

“I hope we both get there,” Serena said. “I mean, I have to win another match.”

Then again, Serena wasn't afraid to look ahead a couple of months to Roland Garros, where she's hoping to win a second French Open title.

“I'm always ready to win the French Open,” she said, “and I never do.”

This year could be different for Williams, who is off to a nice start in her first clay-court tournament the season.

She cruised to an easy victory over Erackovic, showing off some big serves and laser-like groundstrokes while advancing in a tournament title she won once before in 2008.

Williams said she was more comfortable in her second match on clay, moving better and reacting more crisply during the longer points that come with the slower surface.

“So I felt good,” Williams said. “I love the clay.”

It doesn't always love her back, especially at Roland Garros. Williams, a 13-time grand slam titlist, won her only French Open crown in 2002. She lost in the semifinals the next year, and hasn't made it past the quarterfinals in five trips since. Paris is “my favorite city in the world,” Williams said. “I hate leaving there.”

So imagine how much it must gall the ultra-competitive Williams when she leaves without the victory.

First things first, though.

Serena Williams and Erakovic traded ground strokes early on, with the 24-year-old New Zealander prevailing in a game that took nearly 15 minutes to play and left the first set tied at 2.

Williams, annoyed she played through seven deuces and still lost, then cranked it up and won the final four games of the set.

Erakovic was overmatched the rest of the way, often watching from the baseline as Williams' shots flew past for winners. At one point, Williams swung and missed as Erackovic's lob shot flew over, yet caught up with the ball moments later on the bounce and flipped it over the net for a winner. Williams switched sides with a huge grin on her face.

“I'm really excited to be playing some matches here because it really gives you confidence in the things that you want to work on, not just for today and tomorrow, but the rest of the clay-court season,” Williams said.

Williams had aces clocked at 120 and 121 mph in the final set. Erakovic double faulted to end the match.

Williams won 10 of the last 12 games to advance.

Third-seeded Marion Bartoli wasn't so fortunate. She gave up a 4-2 lead in the third set to lose to No. 14 seed Polona Hercog.

Ninth-seeded Lucie Safarova defeated Alexsandra Wozniak and 13th-seeded Nadia Petrova, the 2006 winner here, ousted Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

Radwanska withdrew on Sunday.

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