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WOMEN'S SEMIFINALS PREVIEW

Fans Again Love Pierce

June 02, 2005|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

PARIS — For Mary Pierce, the lowest point and the highest one on the main show court at Roland Garros are quite easy to identify, even if she doesn't remember the exact year of the nadir.

"When I lost to Barbara Rittner [of Germany] ... I clearly remember that," she said. "It was a terrible feeling."

Not only did the French Open crowd get on Pierce, whistling and booing her, they went an extra step during the third-round match in 1996.

"They started cheering for her. So I was like, 'Am I still in France? Where am I? This isn't Germany,' " Pierce said, laughing.

Pierce was talking in the aftermath of her one-sided victory over top-seeded Lindsay Davenport on Tuesday in the women's quarterfinals. And she didn't need to mention that she got the last laugh, winning the title here in 2000, and incidentally, defeating Rittner in the second round that year.

Now the love affair with the French public is in full bloom. Pierce is in the semifinals of a Grand Slam event for the first time since 2000. Today, she will play No. 16 Elena Likhovtseva of Russia after the opening semifinal between No. 7 Nadia Petrova of Russia and No. 10 Justine Henin-Hardenne of Belgium.

Pierce is 6-4 vs. Likhovtseva, and their last meeting came a few weeks ago in Berlin on clay. Pierce won, 6-2, 6-2, but cautioned against reading too much into the result. This is Likhovtseva's first semifinal in 46 Grand Slam appearances.

Henin-Hardenne and Petrova also played in Berlin, in the final, and Henin-Hardenne won, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3. She has lost to Petrova once in seven matches.

Wednesday happened to be Henin-Hardenne's 23rd birthday, and her coach, Carlos Rodriguez, told Belgian reporters that he and Henin-Hardenne would curtail her playing schedule, guarding against a recurrence of the virus that forced her to sit out most of last year.

A Flemish newspaper reported that Henin-Hardenne had a blood test after Berlin, and though there was no sign of the virus, apparently there was cause for some concern in the Henin-Hardenne camp. Rodriguez told Belgian reporters she probably would sit out upcoming tournaments in Eastbourne, England, and Palo Alto and that San Diego was a question mark.

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