Henin outlasts fading Seles

Backhand earns place in semis vs. V. Williams

Capriati easily advances

July 03, 2002|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

WIMBLEDON, England - Night was falling as Justine Henin's star rose again at Wimbledon yesterday.

Henin's backhand crackled on a Centre Court that looked a little like a haunted house, with the ghosts of tennis past fluttering into the gloaming, into the rafters.

And there was a ghost, of sorts, on the other side of the net, Monica Seles, 28, a little slower and a little less bold than before.

They played through dueling service breaks and after rain delays, through an afternoon turned chilly evening, and finally to one last tiebreaker in a swirling wind, with No. 6 seed Henin of Belgium beating No. 4 Seles, 7-5, 7-6 (4).

"I wasn't afraid to play her," Henin said after her first win over Seles in five tries. "I just played my game, went to net."

The win put Henin into tomorrow's semifinals against No. 1 Venus Williams, who defeated Elena Likhovtseva of Russia, 6-2, 6-0.

The women's tournament is finally getting started as Wimbledon is fast drawing to its close.

In the last women's round-of-16 match, which was halted by darkness Monday, No. 3 Jennifer Capriati galloped on court against Eleni Daniilidou of Greece and ran away with the last set to win, 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, yesterday.

"It's tough to see where you're at when it gets like this," Capriati said about her progress in the tournament, where weather conditions turned nasty in the past two days. "You know, the tennis can get a little ugly."

In two quarterfinal matches today, Capriati meets No. 9 Amelie Mauresmo of France and No. 2 Serena Williams meets No. 11 Daniela Hantuchova. The winners will face each other in the semifinals.

And in a women's field where the top seeds have pretty much had their way, the semifinals are where the first real skirmishes were supposed to take place.

Still, there were some preliminaries to get through.

Venus Williams was at her overpowering best against Likhovtseva, showing little emotion in a demolition.

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

Now she is aiming for a third straight Wimbledon, aiming to remain No. 1.

"I don't feel like anyone is chasing me or trying to take me down," she said. "I realize with each match I play, with each opponent, no matter what I'm ranked, my opponent is going to try to win."

There was a sense of drama, as well as pathos, in the Henin-Seles match.

Henin, 20, has the best backhand in tennis and has bulked up her serve, all in a bid to retain her place in the Top 10 and win Wimbledon.

Seles is just a bit faded now, a sober veteran who can't run down as many shots and can't hit as many winners as she did in her teen-age prime.

Still, she tried awfully hard, tried to keep herself warm against the cold by wrapping herself in towels during the changeovers, tried to take the pace off some shots and not play right into Henin's backhand and tried mightily to hold a shaky serve.

But it all ended in the tiebreaker, with Seles punching a backhand return long on a 103-mph serve from Henin.

Afterward, Seles was asked if she could accept that she might never win Wimbledon.

"That could be the case," she said. "I'm fine with that. But you know I gave it the best shot that I could, and that's, I guess, the best that I can do."

But for Henin, there is still hope of winning Wimbledon.

To do it, though, she'd have to get past at least one Williams sister, Venus, in a rematch of last year's final. Venus Williams won that match in three sets, but Henin gave notice that she was a threat on tour.

"It's going to be a different situation," Henin said. "It's not going to be a final. And she didn't play top players in this tournament. So maybe I have a little advantage on this part."

But Henin is a realist.

"It's going to be tough for me," she said. "Especially on a grass court she's playing so well."

Feature matches

Wimbledon men today

Lleyton Hewitt (1) vs. Sjeng Schalken (18)

Wimbledon women today

Amelie Mauresmo (9) vs. Jennifer Capriati (3)

Daniela Hantuchova (11) vs. Serena Williams (2)

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