View Full Version : You Again? Serena May Face Henin for Third Straight Major Quarter

Sep 2nd, 2007, 11:30 PM
By Richard Pagliaro

If the notebook that is Serena Williams' constant companion on court contains a chart chronicling the quality of her play in this U.S. Open that is her latest comeback tournament, the graph would spike significantly after today's 6-3, 6-4 victory over Marion Bartoli.

In her most proficient performance of the tournament, Williams delivered 10 aces, showed some finesse and set herself up for a third consecutive major quarterfinal clash with Justine Henin — should the top-ranked Belgian beat 15th-seeded Dinara Safina in tonight's fourth-rounder.

"I'm definitely better than I was in my first match," Williams said in slightly raspy voice in her post-match press conference. "Each match, I feel like that I've gotten better. I'm still not where I want to be or near. But I feel like I'm doing better, which is important."

Their respective rankings continue to bring them together; their common quest to collect major championships can't keep them apart. Australian Open champion Williams owns eight Grand Slam titles, reigning Roland Garros champ Henin has six and both are seeking to close the Grand Slam season with a championship in New York.

Henin vs. Williams is the most compelling rivalry in women's tennis and for the third straight Grand Slam tournament they are on course to meet again with the winner emerging as the favorite to advance to the final from the top-heavy half of the draw that featured three former U.S. Open champions — Henin, Serena and 12th-seeded Venus Williams — as well as 2006 U.S. Open Series champ Ana Ivanovic when play began today.

The eighth-seeded Williams holds a 6-5 edge in their head-to-head series, but Henin has won their last two matches, scoring a 6-4, 6-3, win at the French Open and a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 victory at Wimbledon.

"She's playing well and she's fighting for everything," Williams said of Henin. "She kind of believes that she can win and maybe that's what makes it special."

The sprained ligament she sustained in her left thumb in beating Daniela Hantuchova, 6-2, 6-7, 6-2, in the Wimbledon fourth round limited Williams' ability to put pressure on her hand in hitting two-handed backhands and reduced her to playing a one-handed slice backhand hand which could not hurt Henin. Williams said today both her thumb — and her slice backhand — are in healthier states than they were at the All England Club.

"At Wimbledon, I couldn't hit a backhand, so I'm very confident in the fact I'll be able to do that," Williams said. "I was really proud of myself to get that far because I had to take six weeks after, so I was thinking how in the world did I even play? Just having that confidence is always positive. She played well at the French. I don't think I played well, but I think she did and she was really focused. It's just a new start for me."

It's a start on the surface where Williams has enjoyed her greatest success against Henin. The two-time U.S. Open champion has won all three of her hard-court meetings with Henin, including saving match point to post an 0-6, 7-5, 6-3, victory in the Miami final last spring.

Williams is the only woman remaining in the draw with quarterfinal credentials at all four major tournaments this season, which marks just the third time in her career she has contested every major in the season. She completed her most convincing conquest of the tournament against the most accomplished opponent she's faced yet, but does Williams, who raised her record to 30-5 with today's win, have enough match play to pick it up even more for the top-ranked Henin?

"I'm playing better each round," Williams said. "I'm not trying to to peak until I get to the finals and that's when I really bring my A game out. I feel like I can do it if I'm there."

Sidelined for the entire U.S. Open Series, Williams is clearly not in peak condition and is not covering the court as quickly as she did in defeating five straight top 20 players — Nadia Petrova, Jelena Jankovic, Shahar Peer, Nicole Vaidisova and Maria Sharapova — en route to capturing her eighth career major championship at the Australian Open in January. But as she begins the second week in her 32nd major, Williams' experience is evident in how she expends her energy. Williams and Henin are the two top players in recognizing pivotal points in a course of a match and elevating their level of play accordingly.

"With Serena she just elevates her game when she needs to," Bartoli said. "She just waits for the great moment and then goes for it and play some great shots when she really needs to. She start maybe a little slowly, but then afterwards, I think the game from three-all in the first set she was really good until the end of the match. She seemed overall in great shape."

Williams sped into the spin cycle today. Rather than resorting to strong-arm tennis in trying to hit through two-handed hitter Bartoli, whose ambitious court positioning on or inside the baseline makes her an inviting target for power players, Williams worked the width of the court with short, sharp angles, particularly off the backhand side, and explored new heights in reintroducing her seldom seen lob on occasion.

But it was Williams' serve that was the key stroke — she struck all corners of the service box with flat, kick and slice serves and never permitted Bartoli to establish any sort of rhythm in her return game.

At times, a perplexed Bartoli squinting into the sun from beneath her white baseball cap, wore the puzzled expression of a woman trying in vain to read the fine print from a label of a shirt spinning wildly around a washer: she knew what she was looking for, but couldn't quite react quickly enough to find it. Bartoli likes to challenge

"I think my game from the baseline was really good. On serve, I almost just couldn't return it," said Bartoli, who fell victim to a similar serving display from Venus Williams in the Wimbledon final. "I mean when its coming 125 miles [an hour] or something, I don't even see the ball coming up. I can't see if it's a middle or wide serve it's coming so fast...She's a great server. She can do the T, she can do the body, she can do everything."

Assuming Henin, who has been a miserly match player dropping just nine games in three matches, including winning three of the six sets she's played at love, stops Safina tonight she will enter the rematch with Williams playing at a higher level.

Henin is a more complete player with a greater palette of shots to draw from, but Williams possesses more power and the explosiveness to punctuate points with one swing of her black Wilson racquet.

It's a match of both wheels and wills: can Henin employ her variety to explore all areas of the court and wear Williams out by forcing her to play running rallies? Or will Williams, whose serve is arguably the best in the history of women's tennis when she's cracking it with conviction, wield that weapon to play first-strike tennis and bully Henin around the baseline as the bigger-hitting Maria Sharapova did in scoring a straight sets win in the 2006 final.

"I definitely felt a lot better on my serve today, especially against her because she's actually a very good returner," Williams said. "So I felt that my serve was actually a lot better today than it had been in my previous matches. It's on track. I want it to just keep getting better with each round, especially now in the quarterfinals."

Armed with her notebook when she takes the court on Monday, Williams' serve will likely determine whether she remains a page-turning presence in the draw.

Simply Stunning, Simply Serena
:worship: 57 Consecutive Weeks as World #1 :worship:
:worship: Olympic Gold Medalist ('00 Doubles w/ Venus) :worship:

Sep 3rd, 2007, 02:01 AM
I'm tired of seeing Justine period. Serena will get the job done this time.