Former champions highlight women's semifinals
PARIS The women are back in the spotlight on Thursday with two semifinals featuring two former champions. Justine Henin-Hardenne, winner of 22 straight matches, and resurgent Mary Pierce return to the Final Four just two wins shy of their second Roland Garros title with only a pair of Russians, Elena Likhovtseva and Nadia Petrova, standing in their way. Henin-Hardenne will face Petrova, while in a matchup of tour veterans, Pierce will battle Likhovtseva.
• After surviving two match points in a fourth-round victory against Svetlana Kuznetsova, Justine Henin-Hardenne finally lived up to her billing as tournament favorite with an impressive straight-set victory against Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova to reach the semifinals. Today, the former No. 1 player will look to continue her high level of play against former Roland Garros semifinalist Nadia Petrova. Two years ago Petrova, now 22, reached the semifinals here as a virtual unknown. She fell to Kim Clijsters in straight sets in that match. Petrova returns as a much-hardened player looking to join her countrywomen Maria Sharapova, Anastasia Myskina and Svetlana Kuznetsova in Grand Slam glory. Henin-Hardenne, who just celebrated her 23rd birthday Wednesday, has beaten Petrova in six of seven meetings, although she needed three tight sets in their most recent encounter in the final at Berlin last month.
• Mary Pierce will carry the hopes of France as she takes on surprise semifinalist and fellow tour veteran Elena Likhovtseva. At age 30, Pierce, the 2000 French Open champion, has suddenly found her winning ways again here in Paris after defeating top 10 players Vera Zvonareva, Patty Schnyder and No. 1 Lindsay Davenport en route to her third semifinal at Roland Garros. For Likhovtseva, this is her career moment. A 29-year-old from Russia, Likhovtseva has enjoyed plenty of success on the doubles circuit, but this is her first career Slam semifinal in singles. Likhovtseva, who upset 2004 finalist Elena Dementieva and then outlasted 15-year-old Sesil Karatantcheva, is playing in her 44th straight Grand Slam and 46th overall. Pierce leads the head-to-head 6-4 over Likhovtseva earning her most recent win last month on clay in Berlin 6-2, 6-2.
Stat du Jour: For the second straight year, third time overall in the Open Era, the top two seeds on the women's side have failed to reach the semifinals.