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Henin Makes Her Point Against Seles

Wimbledon: She scores an impressive 7-5, 7-6 (4) victory over the fourth-seeded player and charges into semifinals.

July 03, 2002|LISA DILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WIMBLEDON, England — One match point saved was reasonable. Certainly, such a legend as Monica Seles wasn't going to leave quietly, hitting an ace to stay alive in her quarterfinal match Tuesday against Justine Henin of Belgium.

Despite a sharp cross-court winner by Seles on the second match point, Henin still had a bit of room to maneuver in the second-set tiebreaker. Henin, who has been known to blow leads in the past, then curved a shot toward Seles while serving on the third match point. Seles popped the return long, and Henin landed in the Wimbledon semifinals.

Though Henin played in the Wimbledon final last year, this victory represented a significant milestone in her blossoming career. It was the first time in five matches she defeated Seles, the player she once watched at Roland Garros as a youngster. Maybe it was why Henin has had such difficulty with Seles, losing a big lead at the 2001 Australian Open.

Maybe it was why the sixth-seeded Henin showed more emotion than usual, blowing a kiss after her 7-5, 7-6 (4) quarterfinal victory against No. 4 Seles. And finally, maybe it was why Henin wasn't ready to think about a semifinal match against two-time defending champion Venus Williams.

"You know, I am still in my quarterfinal," Henin said.

Who could blame her?

Henin has defeated Williams once in six matches, and the top-seeded player was in dominating form, making a good player, Elena Likhovtseva of Russia, look rather ordinary. In the first quarterfinal, Williams beat Likhovtseva, 6-2, 6-0, in 44 minutes, and, more importantly, escaped the subsequent rain delays, becoming the first player to reach the semifinals.

Williams was pleased with her performance but relatively understated in her celebration.

"When I was younger, I used to always to do a lot of fist pumps and things like that," Williams, 22, said. "It's not like it's not as exciting now, it's now I expect myself to be almost perfect.

"Whereas when I first started, I was just first doing things, first getting to the quarterfinals. It was all new. But now I expect to be there."

Williams is beating everything, even the weather. She was safely in the semifinals, and third-seeded Jennifer Capriati was still trying to finish her fourth-round match later in the afternoon. Capriati had split sets with Eleni Daniilidou of Greece on Monday and the match had to be suspended because of darkness.

Originally, they were scheduled to finish on Court 1 after the fourth-round match between Richard Krajicek of the Netherlands and Mark Philippoussis of Australia. The men's match also must be finished today, as they have split the four sets, which have been all been decided by a tiebreaker.

Between the length of their match and the weather problems, it became clear that Capriati might not get her match in. Her coach and father, Stefano, voiced his displeasure with the schedule and the match was moved to Court 18.

Capriati needed only 28 minutes to win the third set and reach the quarterfinals. She defeated Daniilidou, 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, and saved three break points at 3-1. Today, Capriati will play No. 9 Amelie Mauresmo of France in the quarterfinals, and No. 2 Serena Williams will meet No. 11 Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia, weather permitting.

The way Daniilidou was playing in the second set Monday, Capriati was relieved to have had the match suspended.

"You have to be really ready to come out right from the first ball," she said. "But it was probably helpful because the player today and the player yesterday was completely different. In that second set, she was playing pretty unbelievable. It would have been very tough to beat her if we would have kept playing."

They weren't the only ones who had to endure an overnight wait. Xavier Malisse of Belgium and Greg Rusedski of Britain played four sets Monday and had to return for one more Tuesday. Malisse was sharper for the one-set contest, winning the fourth-round match, 3-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, and the British disappointment resounded through the grounds and on television.

"Disappointment again for Greg," said a BBC commentator.

All is not lost for Britain, since Tim Henman remains, but Tuesday was a breakthrough for Belgium. Henin is in the quarterfinals, and Malisse became the first Belgian to reach the Wimbledon men's quarterfinals since 1924. That year, Jean Washer made the quarterfinal round and lost to Frenchman Rene Lacoste in four sets.

"I knew he's a good player," said Rusedski, who missed a forehand volley on break point at 3-3 in the fifth set. "He's very crafty because he's got a long reach. He's quick.... He makes shots out of nothing sometimes. He's not a consistent player, but he's a flashy player. He was just very loose the whole time when he plays."

In contrast, Malisse knew Rusedski's tense demeanor would hurt him at the crucial juncture in the fifth.

"I knew on break point, if I got it back, he would get a little tight," Malisse said.

Right. After all, it's not handling the expectations of a hopeful nation.

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