Sharapova ends Henin’s 32-match streak
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
MELBOURNE, Australia ” Maria Sharapova ended Justine Henin’s 32-match winning streak in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, while defending champion Serena Williams was upset by Jelena Jankovic.
The fifth-seeded Sharapova defeated Henin 6-4, 6-0 Tuesday to reach the semifinals for the fourth year in a row. Last year, Sharapova was beaten in the final by Williams.
Williams was eliminated by Jankovic 6-3, 6-4, then was knocked out of the doubles when she and her sister Venus were beaten 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 by Yan Zi and Zheng Jie of China.
Sharapova lost to Henin at the season-ending championships in Madrid two months ago in one of the longest women’s tour matches ” 3 hours and 24 minutes ” and had a 2-6 record against the Belgian.
“I came into the match really prepared to play a three- to four-hour match,” Sharapova said.
Instead, she came out hot on a cool night, constantly putting pressure on Henin and refusing to wilt when things got tight.
“It’s just incredible,” Sharapova said. “I think it was one of the most consistent matches where I did all the things I wanted to do. I had to be aggressive. When I’m playing well, that’s what I do. I want to be the one that’s forcing their errors. I did a really good job of that today.”
She was looking forward to taking on Jankovic.
“We kind of grew up together, practicing at the same academy,” Sharapova said. “It’s a bit strange. We were always doing the same thing, playing the same groups. It was both of our dreams playing in a Grand Slam, especially playing each other. We’ve always played really tough and we’ve always battled it out.”
On the men’s side, second-ranked Rafael Nadal had a 7-5, 6-3, 6-1 win over No. 24 Jarkko Nieminen of Finland, making the semifinals for the first time in four trips to the Australian Open.
“Maybe I wasn’t playing my best match, my best tennis today, but it was enough,” Nadal said. “It’s a good moment for me, first semifinals on hardcourt, Grand Slam.”
The only player to beat Roger Federer in the past 10 Grand Slam tournaments, Nadal will face unseeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the surprise of the tournament so far, who ousted No. 14 Mikhail Youzhny 7-5, 6-0, 7-6 (6).
Tsonga, ranked 38th, is playing in only his fifth Grand Slam tournament ” partly because of a rash of injuries ” and had never gotten past the fourth round.
“It’s just amazing. I played just unbelievable,” the ebullient Tsonga said. “I tried to relax. It’s a very big event. It’s very difficult to stay on this world.”
Sharapova, going for winners and keeping Henin on the run with deep, stinging groundstrokes, rushed to a 3-0 lead in the first set. Henin, the crowd favorite in packed Rod Laver Arena, kicked a ball after a fault in a rare show of anger.
She broke Sharapova as she served for the first set at 5-3, only to be broken on a pair of backhand winners in the next game by the Russian, who let out a primal scream of joy and relief.
With little going right for Henin, who won the French Open and U.S. Open titles after missing the Australian Open last year, Sharapova rushed through the second set, ripping 15 winners to only five unforced errors.
“I knew she was in top form and I knew it was going to be tough, so I was ready to fight and give my best, but it wasn’t good enough,” Henin said.
It was the first time that Henin had lost a set 6-0 since she was beaten in the first round at the 2002 French Open 4-6, 6-1, 6-0 by Aniko Kapros, a qualifier from Hungary.
Now she’ll have to try to start a new winning streak.
“It’s very hard to be at your best level all the time, and I’ll have to think about that and build again for the future,” Henin said.
Jankovic was seeded third and Williams seventh, so technically, her victory wasn’t an upset. Despite her rise in rise in the rankings, she has never reached the final of a Grand Slam, while Williams seemed to be close to the form that she once used to dominate women’s tennis.
Suddenly, gone were Williams’ chances of defending her title. Gone were images of her spryly sprinting on the court in her first four matches, clearly leaner and fitter than last year, raising questions whether anyone could beat her.
Instead, the last memories will be of Williams struggling, of smashing her racket ” bashing it twice when, like on so many points this day, she just didn’t use enough power to finish it off.
“My shots just weren’t right,” Williams said. “I didn’t move the way I traditionally want to move, and I wasn’t feeling 100 percent. But as an athlete, you know not every day you’re going to feel 100 percent, and some days you have to win feeling 30 percent.
“I’m not going to sit here and make excuses,” she added, refusing to specify what was wrong with her physically. “I lost because Jelena played better than me and I made too many errors. I think regardless, the match was on my racket, and I gave it away.”
Williams beat Jankovic in the fourth round here last year, and there was little cause to think this would be any different, especially with the Serbian woman still not completely recovered from a thigh injury suffered shortly before the tournament began.
“I’m like a wounded animal,” Jankovic said. “I still keep going.
“It was an unbelievable match. I am still shaking. I came out very strong, and I was going for my shots. Especially my backhand down the line was working unbelievably, and that’s how I hurt my opponent.”
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