Petrova ousts Henin-Hardenne from Open, top world ranking

Exit is earliest since '73 for the top-seeded woman

U.S. Open

Tennis

September 07, 2004|By Arthur Staple | Arthur Staple,NEWSDAY

NEW YORK - Justine Henin-Hardenne fought hard to win the 2003 U.S. Open and battled to be back on court to defend her crown this year. She was fighting herself too much in just the fourth round last night, and the struggle proved too great. She was upset by Nadia Petrova, another of the young Russian contingent.

The 6-3, 6-2 win by Petrova, the No. 14 seed, was hardly ever in doubt. After breaking Henin-Hardenne to go up 5-3 in the first set, Petrova served out the first and broke again at 1-all in the second.

Henin-Hardenne had 30 errors and four double faults, including one at deuce and 2-4 down that preceded another error to give Petrova two breaks.

Henin-Hardenne saved three match points but succumbed to a 119-mph ace by the Russian, who ensured that the women will have four different Grand Slam winners in a year for the first time since 1998.

It was the earliest exit by the Open's top-seeded woman since Billie Jean King quit because of illness during her third-round match in 1973.

"Today I was really mentally stronger, kept my nerves down and focused on every point," said Petrova, who won for the first time in six meetings with Henin-Hardenne. "At the beginning of the second set, I had a little doubt that I could pull this match out. Knowing her experience, I think maybe she'd change something, play a little different. But I stayed strong until the end of the match."

And Henin-Hardenne was truly never in this one, beaten as much by the 22-year-old Petrova as by her own failing strokes and serves, as she dropped from the world No. 1 ranking.

Either Amelie Mauresmo or Lindsay Davenport will move up to No. 1; Davenport has been there, Mauresmo hasn't.

Earlier in the day, Davenport and Venus Williams were locked in a matchup fit for a Grand Slam final, not the fourth round. So, too, was the riveting last game.

Seven major titles and 49 weeks at No. 1 between them, Davenport and Williams swapped powerful strokes and anxious moments in a final act encompassing 24 points over 13 minutes. Nine deuces. Five break points for 2000-01 Open champion Williams. Five match points for 1998 Open champ Davenport.

In the end, Davenport was slightly steadier and stronger, pulling out that game and a 7-5, 6-4 victory to reach the quarterfinals.

It was a fittingly tight way to end the pair's 25th meeting, never so early in a tournament; they came in 12-all.

"A tough one to get through," said Davenport, who faces 62nd-ranked Shinobu Asagoe for a semifinal berth. "I wanted to win so badly, and I played such a great, calm match until that point, and then let a few errors creep in."

"It was me. I made too many errors," Williams said. "The thing that hurt me the most was my inconsistency."

That's been a problem for a while, leading to her slide to No. 12 in the rankings. Davenport, meanwhile, has won 21 straight matches since talking about retirement at Wimbledon.

Another big-name showdown is looming in the men's quarterfinals: Andre Agassi vs. Roger Federer. Agassi advanced yesterday with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 victory over pal and occasional practice partner Sargis Sargsian, who was on court for nearly 10 hours in his previous two outings. This one took 90 minutes.

Federer's opponent, No. 16 Andrei Pavel, pulled out with a bad back.

"There's nothing more you ask for than to play a big event against the best player in this environment," Agassi said.

Henin-Hardenne's year started out with much promise, as she followed up on her French and U.S. Open wins from last year with a third Slam in Australia. But then her body failed her, with bouts of bronchitis and a viral infection stealing her away from the tennis spotlight for the entire summer after a second-round exit in Paris.

She returned from a three-month hiatus to win gold in Athens two weeks ago, a signal that she was ready to defend her crown here.

Despite being the neophyte in Arthur Ashe Stadium, Petrova was the one in control.

"Just playing in the big stadium, I just made myself play for the crowd, to really enjoy it," Petrova said. "Beating the defending champion, it's quite a lot of pressure in the beginning. But I won it."

Even with rising star Maria Sharapova out of the tournament, Petrova's win guarantees a Russian in the final four. She will face No. 9 Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarters tomorrow after Kuznetsova dispatched 29-year-old Mary Pierce, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, yesterday.

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Results

Men's singles

Fourth round

Roger Federer (1), Switzerland, def. Andrei Pavel (16), Romania, walkover. Tim Henman (5), Britain, def. Nicolas Kiefer (19), Germany, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-1, 6-7 (4), 3-0, retired. Andre Agassi (6), United States, def. Sargis Sargsian, Armenia, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2. Dominik Hrbaty (22), Slovakia, def. Olivier Rochus, Belgium, 2-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-0.

Women's singles

Fourth round

Shinobu Asagoe, Japan, def. Eleni Daniilidou (29), Greece, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-3. Svetlana Kuznetsova (9), Russia, def. Mary Pierce (27), France, 7-6 (5), 6-2. Lindsay Davenport (5), United States, def. Venus Williams (11), United States, 7-5, 6-4. Nadia Petrova (14), Russia, def. Justine Henin-Hardenne (1), Belgium, 6-3, 6-2.

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