PARIS -- Befuddled all match, Serena Williams reacted to one
flubbed backhand by spiking her racket to the court, drawing
full-throated boos from spectators.
It was as spirited as Williams -- or the crowd -- got during her
lopsided French Open quarterfinal loss to No. 1 Justine Henin, the
one moment Tuesday when the last U.S. singles player in the
tournament truly appeared to want to turn things around.
Too many mistakes and too little fight followed from Williams,
though, and Henin beat her 6-4, 6-3 to close in on a third straight
title at Roland Garros. This meeting bore no resemblance to their
infamous 2003 French Open semifinal, a three-set tussle that
featured far more drama, acrimony and, well, competitive tennis.
"All she had to do was show up," said Williams, who won the
Australian Open in January for her eighth major championship. "I
thought that she did well, but I've played against her when she's
played even better."
Told of those comments, Henin took the high road.
"Well, it's her opinion," the Belgian said. "I thought I did
a good job. I see it from my point of view, and I did everything I
could to control the match."
She certainly did, and in the process extended her record streak
to 31 consecutive sets won at the French Open.
In the women's semifinals Thursday, Henin will face No. 4 Jelena
Jankovic of Serbia, who defeated No. 6 Nicole Vaidisova of the
Czech Republic 6-3, 7-5. The other women's semifinal pits No. 2
Maria Sharapova against No. 7 Ana Ivanovic of Serbia.
Henin is trying to win her sixth Grand Slam and fourth French
Open title; the other women never have been to the final four at
the clay-court major.
"I didn't come off the court and go, 'Wow, I'm in the
semifinals.' That wasn't really the feeling that I had," said
Sharapova, who needed rest and a cortisone shot for her injured
right shoulder before coming to Paris. "In any tournament that I
play -- whether it's on clay or mud or whatever it is -- I know what
I'm capable of."
She beat No. 9 Anna Chakvetadze of Russia 6-3, 6-4, while
Ivanovic got past No. 3 Svetlana Kuznetsova, last year's runner-up,
6-0, 3-6, 6-1.
Ivanovic dumped a backhand into the net on the very first point,
then won 25 of the next 32 points, prompting this postmatch
analysis: "I would say I was pretty good."
Kuznetsova, who won the 2004 U.S. Open, made things more
interesting until aggravating an abdominal muscle injury while
serving in the second set's final game. Ivanovic took 15 of the
last 16 points.
"Everything was happening really fast," Ivanovic said, "and I
didn't have time to think much."
Williams didn't seem to think Henin's play had much to do with
the way things went in their match, played on the same court four
years to the day after their last French Open showdown. Back in
2003, Williams was No. 1 and owner of a 33-match Grand Slam winning
streak. Nowadays, it's Henin who tops the rankings and owns Roland
That other match featured a flap over whether Henin tried to
call time, and Williams also fired up the crowd by arguing line
calls. Williams lost, was jeered off the court, then teared up
while talking about the rough experience.
Once again, there was more support in the stands for the
French-speaking Henin, and several black-yellow-and-red Belgian
flags flapped in the wind. But the only time the fans really gave
Williams a hard time was when she treated her racket like a
Her outburst came when she executed a sliced backhand so badly
the ball bounced before it got to the net, allowing Henin to break
in the second set's opening game. Williams then won 10 of the next
12 points to go up 2-1.
But serving at 2-2, 40-15, Williams fell apart, making errors on
five of the next six points to get broken again.
"I never play like that," she said. "Sometimes you've got to
just step back and say, 'OK, try this, try that, or try Plan B.'
But I think my Plan B was to make errors."
It didn't help that Henin determined the tempo of rallies,
switching speeds and angles at will, something Williams referred to
as "her little tactics."
Henin used those tactics to wrap things up in a hurry, taking
eight of the final nine points.
"She didn't look very aggressive," Henin said. "So I just
understood, if I was mentally and emotionally under control today,
I was going to win this match."