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Henin beats Williams to enter semis

sports Updated: Jun 06, 2007 20:22 IST
AP
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Serena Williams failed to end Justine Henin's record run at the French Open.

Keeping Williams on the move with versatile shotmaking, two-time defending champion Henin advanced to the semifinals by winning 6-4, 6-3 on Tuesday.

Henin extended her Open era record winning streak at Roland Garros to 31 consecutive sets. The Belgian is two rounds from becoming the first woman to win three consecutive French Open titles since Monica Seles in 1990-92.

Williams, who had won her past 11 Grand Slam matches, was the lone remaining American in men's or women's singles. She was puzzled by her poor play and reluctant to credit Henin.

"All she had to do was show up," Williams said. "I just pretty much stood back and let her take advantage of me." Responded Henin: "It's her opinion. I thought I just did a good job. And I just see it from my point of view, and I did everything I could to control the match."

Henin's opponent on Thursday will be No 4-seeded Jelena Jankovic, who beat No 6 Nicole Vaidisova 6-3, 7-5.

The other semifinal will be between No 2 Maria Sharapova and No 7 Ana Ivanovic. Sharapova beat No 9 Anna Chakvetadze 6-3, 6-4, and Ivanovic defeated 2006 runner-up Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-0, 3-6, 6-1. For Sharapova, Ivanovic and Jankovic, it's their best showing at the French Open. The 19-year-old Ivanovic is a first-time Grand Slam semifinalist.

"I now feel old on the circuit," said the 25-year-old Henin. "Newcomers are coming up. Women's tennis keeps getting better." Williams revived her career by winning the Australian Open in January for her eighth Grand Slam title, and she was considered perhaps Henin's most formidable hurdle this week. The meeting was their first at Roland Garros since 2003, when a semifinal victory by Henin included boos for Williams and left a bitter aftertaste on both sides.

The lone jeers this time came when a frustrated Williams slammed her racket to the clay when she lost serve in the opening game of the second set. The boos quickly subsided, and while the crowd favored the French-speaking Henin, they applauded Williams when she left the court after the match.

There was no evident acrimony between the players, either. While Williams offered only a perfunctory handshake following their match four years ago, this time when she dumped a forehand in the net on match point, she smiled as she and Henin engaged in a genial exchange at the net.

"She just wished me the best, and to go to the end of the tournament," Henin said. "It has been a lot of respect between the two of us (lately), and it has been a very correct match today. So I think we were both happy about that."

Unlike other players, Henin was able to draw on a wide variety of shots to keep Williams off balance. Henin is best known for her picturesque backhand, but she did considerable damage with her forehand, hitting deep to control rallies against Williams.

"She didn't look very aggressive," Henin said. "When I could make her run a little bit, it was easier for me." The only break in the opening set came in the first game. Williams popped up a volley on break point, and Henin sprinted across the court at an angle to whack a winner.

The Belgian held her first six service games, facing only one break point and shouting "Allez!" when she won important points. When Williams dumped a drop shot into the net to again lose serve and fall behind 1-0 in the second set, she slammed her racket.

"I was just making all the errors and just playing like a maniac," Williams said.

She won the next six points, breaking back with the help of two double faults by Henin to take a 2-1 lead, but it didn't last long. Williams lost her next service game, largely because of three backhand errors, and Henin calmly won eight of the final nine points to close out the victory.

"I managed to hold my serve in the important moments," Henin said. "I managed to impose my game."
She improved to 14-1 in Grand Slam quarterfinals and faces a potentially tough semifinal against Jankovic, who is 44-10 this year and 23-3 on clay.

But two of those clay-court losses came against Henin, who is 5-0 against Jankovic.
"I will try to find a way somehow to win," Jankovic said. "I think I can do it ... because I feel that I'm really physically very fit, and I feel like I move so well on the clay." Sharapova had lost her previous two quarterfinal matches at Roland Garros.

Nursing a sore shoulder and playing on her worst surface, the two-time Grand Slam champion nonetheless managed a breakthrough against fellow Russian Chakvetadze.

"I wouldn't say I'm surprised," Sharapova said. "I didn't come off the court and go, `Wow, I'm in the semifinals.' That wasn't really the feeling that I had.

"In any tournament that I play, whether it's on clay or mud or whatever it is, I know what I'm capable of, and I believe in myself."

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