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Women Set Sights On Quarterfinals

Photo By Fred Mullane By Richard Pagliaro

Continuous card games, scattered snack wrappers and occasional crashes on couches make the players’ lounge inside Arthur Ashe Stadium look a little bit like a pajama party. The grey, gloomy sky spitting a steady stream of rain over the National Tennis Center has left many of the courts looking like the bottom of the Grapes Of Wrath fountain (without the spare change) flowing in Flushing Meadows Park.

Conditions are more conducive to lounging rather than playing, but when it comes time to compete none of the women remaining in the draw are couch potatoes.

The absence of the Williams sisters have given the six women through to the quarterfinals — the final two quarterfinalists will be decided upon the completion of the Anastasia Myskina-Mary Pierce and Ai Sugiyama-Francesca Schiavone fourth-round matches — legitimate hopes of realizing their U.S. Open dreams.

Players are playing the waiting game now, but when play eventually resumes here’s a look at the favorites to advance to the final four.

The marquee match of the quarterfinals casts top-seeded Kim Clijsters against Amelie Mauresmo. Stylistically, the match presents two players who can deviate from the standard baseline power play practiced by most members of the top 10.

Neither player has surrendered a set and both have won 48 games through the first four rounds. The 20-year-old Clijsters has been the most consistent competitor on the WTA Tour in recent months. Clijsters carries a 71-9 record and a healthy respect for Mauresmo into the match, while the injury-prone Mauresmo is 38-9.

Clijsters has won three of their five meetings, but Mauresmo prevailed 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 in the round of 16 last year. In that match, Mauresmo used her vast variety of shots and a willingness to attack the net on short balls to prevail in a tight third set.

"I feel better this year than I did last year. But the opponents only get better," Clijsters said. "I've had a really tough draw so far. I really feel like against Amelie, everything has to be at your best. She mixes her game up so well. She can be very aggressive but then she can mix -- like with the slices and the spin ball, she can really make it hard for you and make you adjust all the time sort of. That's where I have to be very focused and not worry if I'm maybe not playing my best, but mentally stay strong and stay very motivated out there. "

This is a match that fifth-seeded French woman could win — if she has a sensational serving day and takes timely risk in the rallies. Given that fact that Clijsters is quicker, more consistent from the backcourt and generally competes harder on a match-to-match basis, you have to favor the Belgian baseliner to advance to her fourth straight Slam semifinal.
The 24-year-old Mauremo’s beautiful one-handed backhand is one of the most attractive strokes in women’s tennis. That shot tends to be more consistent than her forehand, which can produce more winners, but can also stray and spray balls a bit more. Look for Clijsters to try to break down the Mauresmo forehand and keep the 2002 semifinalist shuffling sideways along the baseline rather than surging forward.

Clijsters is the most accomplished woman without a Grand Slam championship in her trophy collection and her three Slam setbacks this season have cast a cloud of doubt about her ability to break through and win a major.

Squandering a 5-2 third-set lead and two match points, Clijsters came apart and failed to win another game in falling to Serena Williams, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 in the Australian Open semis. Rolling through the early stages of the clay-court season, Clijsters came up shockingly flat in her 6-0, 6-4 setback to compatriot Justine Henin-Hardenne in the French Open final. In the Wimbledon semifinals, a wounded Venus Williams won four of the final five games to dismiss Clijsters, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1.

If you’re sensing a major match trend here, you’re not alone. But rather than focus on her failings at Slam this season, Clijsters can take solace in the fact that she and Henin-Hardenne are the only women with a legitimate shot to reach the semis in all four Slams this season. Though she has yet to raise a Grand Slam trophy, Clijsters has played higher-quality tennis than Mauresmo this year and unless her level of play dips drastically she should get past Mauresmo in what may well be the most entertaining match of the quarters.

Nueroma (a nerve injury) to her left foot forced Lindsay Davenport to retire from the Pilot Pen final that preceded the U.S. Open. The 1998 U.S. Open champion has put her foot down in winning all five of her career matches with quarterfinal opponent Paola Suarez.
At the age of 27, Davenport has suggested she’s in the waning stage of her career and fully realizes this may be her best chance to reach her first major final since she fell to Venus Williams in the 2000 U.S. Open final.

The scrappy Suarez is the first Argentine woman to reach the quarterfinals since Gabriela Sabatini advanced to the final eight for the ninth straight year in 1995. The 24th-seeded Suarez showed her tenacity in both her 6-4, 4-6, 62 victory over Alicia Molik in the third round and her 6-2, 3-6, 7-5 triumph over Elena Likhovtseva in the fourth round.

Suarez has the legs and court sense to extend Davenport in some exchanges, but she lacks the weapon required to seriously threaten the woman making her seventh straight quarterfinal appearance at the Open. Like a pebble stuck in a shoe of a runner, Suarez could provide discomfort to Davenport, but won’t prevent her from continuing her run to the semifinals.

Jennifer Capriati concluded a 20-month title drought by capturing the Pilot Pen title last month. Since claiming her first career Grand Slam crown at the 2001 Australian Open, Capriati has often played her best matches in the majors — until one of the Williams sisters pulls the plug on the Jennerator in the second week.
The absence of Serena and Venus has empowered Capriati, who has looked sharp in surging to the quarterfinals. Capriati will face either 15th-seeded Ai Sugiyama or 29th-seeded Francesca Schiavone, who are currently deadlocked at six-all in their rain-delayed fourth-round match, and will be the clear favorite against either opponent. Capriati is 2-0 against Schiavone and though she’s split her six meetings with Sugiyama, the Scottsdale champion lacks Capriati’s Slam success and would be hard-pressed to beat the hard-hitting American at this stage of the Open.

"Schiavone plays with looping top spin and Sugiyama plays fast and hard. I’ve played them both before and done well so I’m ready to play either one again," Capriati said.

A Capriati victory would put her on track for a semifinal showdown with second-seeded Justine Henin-Hardenne, who has surrendered just nine games in her last three matches to advance to the quarterfinals. The Roland Garros champion awaits the winner of the fourth-round match between Anastasia Myskina and Mary Pierce. The seventh-seeded Myskina currently leads the resurgent Pierce 4-2 in a match that has been suspended due to rain.

The 21-year-old Henin-Hardenne had never been beyond the fourth round in her three previous Flushing Meadows appearances, but is playing with staying power now. Pierce is winless in two matches against Henin-Hardenne, who has exploited the former French Open champion’s immobility. Henin-Hardenne has won two of her three matches with Myskina, who has looked vulnerable in going the three-set distance in all three of her tournament victories.
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