Henin-Hardenne beats Sharapova at French Open
From the start, Justine Henin-Hardenne's wide variety of sharply angled shots had Maria Sharapova staggering across the clay in vain pursuit.
With drop shots, deft volleys and picturesque backhands, Henin-Hardenne kept Sharapova on the run Tuesday and easily advanced to the French Open semifinals, winning 6-4, 6-2.
It was a remarkable show of stamina by Henin-Hardenne less than 24 hours after she overcame two match points to win a 3-hour, 15-minute marathon against Svetlana Kuznetsova.
The 2003 Roland Garros champion ran her winning streak to 22 matches, all on clay, and improved to 25-1 since returning in March from a seven-month layoff because of a blood virus and knee injury.
``She can produce a huge variety of shots,'' Sharapova said. ``On clay she has the time to do that, and I think that's what makes her so dangerous.''
Henin-Hardenne's opponent Thursday will be seventh-seeded Nadia Petrova, who reached the semifinals at Roland Garros for the second time by beating 17-year-old Ana Ivanovic 6-2, 6-2.
Joining Petrova in the final four was fellow Russian Elena Likhovtseva, 29, who advanced to a Grand Slam semifinal for the first time in her 12-year career by beating 15-year-old Sesil Karatantcheva 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.
Likhovtseva, seeded 16th, has never been beyond the third round before in 10 previous appearances at Roland Garros.
Henin-Hardenne, seeded 10th but the pre-tournament favorite with oddsmakers, has been bothered in recent weeks by a sore back and was pushed to three sets three times in the early rounds. But she dominated Sharapova with a polished performance.
The Belgian totaled 22 winners and just 17 unforced errors while losing serve only once. When Sharapova sent a backhand long on match point, Henin-Hardenne grinned, screamed and punched the air.
``She just has a lot of confidence,'' Sharapova said. ``You hit a big shot, and she can come up with a tougher shot. She made great drop shots at important points, and that comes with confidence.''
Second-ranked Sharapova came up short in her bid to overtake top-ranked Lindsay Davenport at Roland Garros and claim the No. 1 spot for the first time.
``Every loss is disappointing,'' Sharapova said. ``I'm sure you hear that from every loser. But that's the way it goes. I can't win everything.''
Davenport was scheduled to play Mary Pierce in the quarterfinals later Tuesday.
Likhovtseva rallied against the unseeded Karatantcheva, who upset Venus Williams in the third round and was seeking to become the youngest French Open semifinalist since 1990. Karatantcheva was two games from victory leading 4-3 in the second set, but her serve and groundstrokes suddenly began to misfire, allowing Likhovtseva to sweep the next three games and even the match.
The third set developed into a series of conservative groundstrokes and long points _ the kind of rallies reminiscent of the Chris Evert era. Karatantcheva hit some weary shots down the stretch, and Likhovtseva won the final eight points.
``She played great,'' Karatantcheva said, ``and I don't think I really believed in myself today. I hope I have more quarterfinals to play, and I hope I win then.''
Playing the first match on center court, young Karatantcheva showed no evidence of nerves at the outset and raced to a 3-0 lead. She ripped a backhand winner crosscourt to close out the first set in 34 minutes.
Likhovtseva was less reluctant to move forward, which helped turn the match in her favor. She totaled 29 winners to just 16 for Karatantcheva, who committed seven double-faults.
``I was really nervous at the beginning,'' Likhovtseva said. ``I just tried to enjoy the game. I fought, and I think I played well.''
Ivanovic hit just 10 winners and had 33 unforced errors against Petrova, who has lost just 33 games and one set in her five victories.
Petrova also reached the semifinals at Roland Garros in 2003 before losing to Kim Clijsters. The 22-year-old Russian is seeded seventh but has yet to win a WTA Tour title.