Davenport ready to end drought

Lindsay Davenport has lost six straight matches against Justine Henin-Hardenne. However, there's more to their quarterfinal match than a losing streak.

Updated: September 5, 2006, 3:20 PM ET
By Bonnie DeSimone | Special to ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- Who would you pick in this U.S. Open quarterfinal: A woman who's reached all three Grand Slam finals this year or a woman barely back from a four-month injury layoff?

Justine Henin-Hardenne has beaten 10th seed Lindsay Davenport the last six times they've played, most recently in the quarters of the Australian Open, when Henin-Hardenne knocked Davenport off the world No. 1 perch the American had occupied almost continually since late 2004.

Lindsay Davenport
Nick Laham/Getty ImagesDavenport hasn't beaten Justine Henin-Hardenne since 2002, losing the last six meetings against the Belgian.
The second-seeded Henin-Hardenne breezed through her early matches here and has dropped just two games in the last four sets. Yet she's far too shrewd to count her winners before they're smacked in her upcoming tilt with Davenport, scheduled for Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET in Arthur Ashe Stadium. She refused to entertain questions about a possible march to the finals. She's not superstitious, so the fact that she won this tournament the last time she made the quarterfinals means exactly nothing to her.

"I'm careful," the Belgian said. "That's my nature."

"Lindsay can always be a difficult match. … Now the statistics are on my side, but one match is not like another."

Meanwhile, in the category of intangibles, the 30-year-old Davenport is acting like a carefree puppy released from a crate. She was penned up for four months, first with a bad back, then recovering from a strange incident at home where she suffered a concussion in a fall she doesn't remember.

"I'm ecstatic that I've gotten to this point," she said. "This is the most, like, fun and relaxed I've ever had at a Grand Slam. But the really tough part is just now coming up."

Davenport said Henin-Hardenne, 24, is "absolutely" the most complete player in the world. Davenport won the first five times they played, from 1999 through 2002, but attributed that to Henin-Hardenne's youth at the time.

Henin-Hardenne recently began coming to the net more in an effort to further neutralize sluggers such as Davenport.

"It's going to be the kind of game I will have to play in the next few years if I want to stay on the tour," she said. "I'm not as tall, I'm not as strong as the other players. I save some energy to play like this.

"I never beat the powerful players on my baseline. I think I have to take my opportunities on the court and move forward and take my chances. When I did beat [Svetlana] Kuznetsova this year at the French Open, it was one break in the second set, three return-and-volleys."

Davenport said she has little choice other than to find a way to keep Henin-Hardenne back on her heels.

"She is obviously unbelievable at offense," Davenport said. "But at the same hand, she's so quick and digs out a lot of balls. For me, it's a hard mix because if I don't hit the ball deep, she'll take advantage. And if I do, she gets a lot of balls back in play that I have to be ready to come back.

"I'm not going to outrun her. I'm going to have to try and get the first hit on the rally and, again, try to keep the points shorter rather than longer. … There's no question I have to keep the balls coming back at her hard and deep, and not give her a lot of time to set up and use her forehand."

Davenport won 6-4, 6-4 Monday, dispatching the erratic Swiss No. 7 seed Patty Schnyder, whose looping strokes flew around the court on a windy day. Henin-Hardenne conducted a clinic against Israel's Shahar Peer, the 21st seed, with a 6-1, 6-0 dismantling in which Henin-Hardenne committed only six unforced errors.

"That doesn't happen often during a season," she said.

Not surprisingly, Henin-Hardenne pronounced herself "serene" afterward and observed that she has had a successful year no matter what happens next.

"Everything is a bonus for me from here through the rest of the season," she said.

Things could be a little different and more emotionally charged for Davenport, who hasn't yet committed to playing next year. She did make one thing clear Monday -- she won't announce her last tournament in advance.

"He is one of a kind," Davenport said of Andre Agassi. "I think how he did it was extremely courageous, and I don't think I would ever be that courageous in terms of saying something like he did. I think it would be much more private, and I don't think I'll necessarily know until it's over.

"I feel like I've gone through a lot. Each time, where it could have been or someone else maybe thought it was the right time for me to stop, I've always wanted to get back out and start hitting again."

Frequent contributor Bonnie DeSimone is covering the U.S. Open for ESPN.com.