Williams, Henin rematch doesn’t live up to 2003 contest

Published 5:41 am Wednesday, June 6, 2007

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.
Told of those comments, Henin took the high road.
She certainly did, and in the process extended her record streak to 31 consecutive sets won at the French Open.
A set was lost by — gasp! — Roger Federer against No. 9 Tommy Robredo of Spain. But Federer quickly righted himself to win 7-5, 1-6, 6-1, 6-2 and reach the semifinals at a record 12th major tournament in a row. The first set Tuesday was the 36th in a row won by Federer in Grand Slam action, eclipsing the Open era mark John McEnroe set in 1984.
His opponent Friday will be No. 4 Nikolay Davydenko of Russia, who reached the semifinals by beating No. 19 Guillermo Canas of Argentina 7-5, 6-4, 6-4 despite making 64 unforced errors to Canas’ 15.
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.
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.
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 Garros.
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 football.
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.
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.