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All eyes are on Henin-Venus semifinal match

September 07, 2007|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- This afternoon's semifinal between top-seeded Justine Henin and No. 12 Venus Williams will be the biggest women's match at the U.S. Open since the one between Henin and Serena Williams all those days ago.

On Tuesday.

At least one person -- incidentally, not related to Henin or Williams -- predicts the eventual winner of this year's U.S. Open will be from this match, not the opening one between No. 4 Svetlana Kuznetsova, who is a former U.S. Open champion, and Grand Slam semifinal newcomer No. 6 Anna Chakvetadze, who has yet to drop a set.

"I think it will be a great semifinal. Venus and Justine will be a great match, and I think one of them will win the whole tournament," said Jelena Jankovic on Wednesday night.

Jankovic should know. She is the link between Venus Williams and Henin because this is the first meeting between the semifinalists in about 4 1/2 years. Jankovic has played each of them three times this year, and she pointed to Venus' 7-1 record against Henin.

But the last time Henin and Venus Williams played was in the 2003 Australian Open semifinals, and that was before Henin became a Grand Slam champion, going from zero to six since then.

"I think she's definitely improved," Williams said. "She's done what she can with her game, just like you have to improve every year to stay on tour. You can't be stagnant.

"But I feel like I've seen her play quite a lot. I feel like I know what to expect."

And if she doesn't, there is a family member to offer a first-hand scouting report. That is, if Serena Williams, who has lost to Henin three times in Grand Slams this year in the quarterfinals, is up to talking yet after going away, quickly and angrily, in Tuesday's 7-6 (3), 6-1, loss.

"She loves to win," said Venus, who noted her sister was a step slow against Henin. "We both hate losing. It's just a shock. Like I don't believe I lost when I lose. I have to like actually start settling in and realizing, 'Oh my God, it happened.' "

Henin may have learned a lesson in the letdown department at Wimbledon when she lost to Marion Bartoli in the semifinals after beating Serena. She has not lost a set in five matches here and has taken four sets at love.

"I would say that match against Serena took me a lot of energy," Henin said. "Emotionally, I went far in my limits at that time. . . . But I learned a lot of things. And here it's different. Every match is a final for me."

Henin and Venus Williams have a combined 12 Grand Slam singles titles, and the women in the other semifinal have one, and that would be Kuznetsova. Kuznetsova is 2-0 against Chakvetadze, but they haven't played since the spring of 2006, before Chakvetadze's game took off under the guidance of Southern California coach Robert Lansdorp.

"I see she's extremely confident because she wins a couple of tournaments on the hard court," said Kuznetsova, who won the Open in 2004. "She's [an] upcoming player. I think the difference is going to be I just have a little more experience. I've been in semifinal before. It's her first time."

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lisa.dillman@latimes.com

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