Serena-Henin matchup to top star-studded day
By Charles ElmoreCharles Elmore
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
KEY BISCAYNE — Give No. 1 Justine Henin credit. She converted a wrenching loss to Serena Williams in the Sony Ericsson Open final last year into the confidence to beat her rival in three straight majors.
"It's a very good memory from last year, even if I had match points and I lost the match," Henin said. "It was a day that I understood that I could win against Serena and that I could do it in Grand Slams three times in the same year."
But if you have to choose, award Serena the edge in today's Key Biscayne quarterfinal because of home-court advantage. The issue is not so much crowd support but match conditions.
Monday's fourth-round matches offered a hint of how South Florida's swirling stew of wind, heat and humidity can blot Henin's concentration, particularly on her serve. She double-faulted four times in one game, and six times in the second set. You wouldn't notice that from the match score in Henin's 6-2, 6-2 victory over unseeded Elena Vesnina. But on home turf, Serena should be able to exploit anything close to that mini-slump.
"The wind was quite strong today, and I lost my intensity and my concentration," Henin said. "In the second set a little bit, especially in that game that I did my four double-faults. But I had really the sun in the eyes there and it was quite windy at that time of the match."
Serena, who breezed by Kaia Kanepi 6-3, 6-3, said she has not played particularly well against Henin lately and looks forward to a renewal of their rivalry. They have drawn even, 6-6, in career meetings.
"We have a great rivalry," Serena said. "I mean, we definitely bring out some of the best tennis in each other, and she tends to play really well against me."
She stopped short of calling Henin her most vexing rival, saying sister Venus, a possible semifinal foe, remains "the toughest opponent for me out there."
The Henin-Serena 1 p.m. quarterfinal match today highlights a star-studded schedule all around. In fact, tournament officials are calling it the strongest slate they can recall in a single day of the tournament's history spanning nearly a quarter-century.
Former tournament champions Venus Williams and Svetlana Kuznetsova square off at 7 p.m. No. 1 Roger Federer and No. 2 Rafael Nadal are both in action in the afternoon. At night, No. 6 Andy Roddick plays for a chance to meet Federer in the quarters.
"It is a special day," said tournament founder and Chairman Butch Buchholz, turning to referee Alan Mills. "I can't remember any time in the 24 years that you've had a day quite like that."
Mills said, "No, we haven't. The women's singles have sort of panned out to be the right four names."
Beating one Williams sister is tough enough on hard courts. Beating them both in the same tournament, as Henin managed to do at the U.S. Open last fall, is a rare achievement.
But the biggest challenge of all might be to do it in South Florida, just down the road from the Williams' home in Palm Beach Gardens. The sisters have won seven of the past 10 women's titles in Key Biscayne.
"They're obviously great players and great athletes, but you know, being from South Florida, I think that really helps with the conditions," said former No. 1 Lindsay Davenport.
Davenport, a Californian who has missed the previous five tournaments in Key Biscayne because of injuries and the birth of her son, did not adapt so well herself Monday.
The wind affected her serve, and a crowded feeling on Court 1 bothered her, too. No. 13 seed Dinara Safina took advantage, defeating the No. 32-seeded Davenport 6-3, 6-4. That ended her celebrated comeback-mom run a day after she upset No. 2 Ana Ivanovic.
The sisters look around and ask: What tough conditions?
"I mean, it's just starting to get warm," said Venus, a 6-3, 6-3 winner over Caroline Wozniacki on Monday.
"It hasn't been windy like it normally is. We've been pretty lucky with the rain so far. I guess anything can happen with the weather here, but I live in Florida, so I'm used to it, I guess."