Henin's streak ends at 32; '07 champ Serena loses to Jankovic

Updated: January 22, 2008, 10:51 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Maria Sharapova was ready to play three or four hours but didn't need to. Serena Williams did and ended up with two losses to show for it.

Fifth-ranked Sharapova ended No. 1 Justine Henin's 32-match winning streak 6-4, 6-0 Tuesday to advance to the Australian Open semifinals for the fourth straight year.

Williams, who beat Sharapova in last year's final, was ousted 6-3, 6-4 by Jelena Jankovic, then teamed with sister Venus to lose their women's doubles match -- spending a total of 3½ hours on court.

Sharapova was beaten by 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," said the 20-year-old Sharapova, who beat Henin in 98 minutes.

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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, who she's beaten in three of four meetings.

"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."

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.

[+] EnlargeMaria Sharapova
AP Photo/Rick StevensMaria Sharapova, who was up to the task of an hours-long match, eventually wore down Justin Henin.

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," said Henin, adding she believed Sharapova would win the title.

"A lot of things can happen [but] she looks like she's the player who is really confident now, and she has a great chance to do it, I think," Henin said.

Jankovic was seeded third and Williams seventh, so technically, her victory wasn't an upset. But as well as Jankovic has been playing in rising through 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.

Justine Henin
AP Photo/Rick StevensStunningly, Justine Henin provided little resistance against Maria Sharapova. Henin put up a bagel in the second set.

Suddenly, stunningly, 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 put enough power to finish it off the first time.

"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.

"Getting revenge, it feels so good," Jankovic said. "I'm like a wounded animal. 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."

Information from The Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.