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All Belgian Semis: Henin Halts Wozniacki and Clijsters Shuts Down Stosur

Because this was their initial career meeting, Justine Henin was a bit anxious about her quarterfinal opponent at the Sony Ericsson Open, Caroline Wozniacki.  Nevertheless, the former world number one and multiple major winner as customary figured it out.  Henin ousted the second seed in three sets 6-7,6-3,6-4.

Henin struck initially, breaking Wozniacki the first game of the match.  Although the world number two swiftly returned the favor, in Wozniacki’s second game, with a forehand volley winner Henin had break point.  Justine converted when Wozniacki’s forehand sailed long.  After consolidating for 3-1, Henin found herself on the ropes in the 6th game, double break point down.  Henin dropped that game to equalize the set at 3 all. Towards the end, the players traded breaks, sending the set to a tiebreaker whereby Wozniacki took a one set lead in the match.

In the second set, after both women held serve comfortably, Wozniacki double faulted to give Henin break point.  Still, the teenager calmly brushed that aside and got to 3 all.  Henin reciprocated the next game, wiping out two break points.  On the change over, dealing with a lower back injury, Henin called for medical attention.  When Henin got back to business with a return winner, she set up double break point.  Justine obtained the 5-3 edge when Wozniacki made a backhand crosscourt miscue. The next game, with a forehand winner, Henin seized the set.

The third set, after Wozniacki committed a forehand error on game point, she attempted to volley off an overhead by Henin but failed. Now with break point, Henin forced Wozniacki into a backhand crosscourt error.  Following that, Henin consolidated for 3-1.  From that point on, both players cruised on serve.  With Wozniacki unable to fabricate a break point, on triple match point, Henin closed out the match with her signature stroke, the backhand down the line.

After the match, inquired the following from Henin:
Q.  Is it difficult to come up with a strategy when you face a player for the first time?
HENIN:  Yeah, it’s always difficult.  Especially now that I’m coming back, I like to know a little bit about what can happen.  When you face someone that you [have] never played in the past, you don’t have any [reference].  You just look [for] your confidence on the court and how to feel comfortable with the game she gives. So I do prefer to play someone that I know better.

Although it’s been three years since Kim Clijsters and Samantha Stosur last played, Clijsters didn’t seem unimpressed with her rival’s much improved game.  Clijsters dispatched Stosur in straight sets 6-3,7-5.

After holding serve at love, Clijsters provoked three consecutive miscues from Stosur for triple break point.  When Stosur sliced a backhand into the net, Clijsters pocketed the break.  Subsequently, Clijsters consolidated for a 3-0 lead.  Despite Stosur guarding serve, Clijsters refused to permit her back in the set. Ultimately, Clijsters wrapped things up with a love game.

Stosur found herself under the gun from the opening points of the second set.  After erasing double point in her second service game, Stosur faced triple break point when Clijsters connected on a backhand down the line.  The very next point, Clijsters duplicated that stroke to capture the break and a 3-2 advantage.  Still, Stosur battled back to even out the set at 3 all.  However, after Stosur netted a forehand, she stared at break point. Still, Stosur maintained serve for 4-3.  But, at 5 all, a series of mistakes by Stosur established triple break point for Clijsters.  Kim capitalized when Samantha dumped a backhand into the net.  On her first try, the Belgian stuck a forehand winner to terminate the match.

After her win, asked Clijsters:
Q.  Stosur has one the best serves on the tour, and her kick serve is especially good.  Were you surprised how well you returned against her?
CLIJSTERS:  The thing is . . . when I play against Sam I know that that’s her serve, so you kind of can prepare yourself for it . . .
Q.  You haven’t played since 2007.  So there was really nothing that different?
CLIJSTERS:  Um, she’s definitely improved a lot . . . When I played her in the past . . . I think especially at really important matches and important moments in matches I think she would make a few . . . easier mistakes.  You know, I felt that she’s really worked a lot on the serve, and then the next shot.  I think she’s really good at that.  I think if you can’t get it wide enough to her backhand she’s really aggressive with that forehand.  She puts a lot spin on there, so it’s tough to get out of it once she’s putting pressure on you.  Once you’re into that rally, you can’t really get out of her forehand.  So I was really trying to make sure that from the return I was trying to go into that backhand.  When I felt that I could really go down the line or just open it up in the forehand, like trying to stay aggressive and . . . not to let her dominate most of the points.

Clijsters’ victory sets up an all Belgian semifinal.  In Brisbane, Henin and Clijsters clashed in the finals, the former’s first tournament after rejoining the WTA tour. That match was a high quality affair with Clijsters prevailing in a tight third set tiebreaker.  If that duel is any indication, this will be a spectacular semifinal encounter.

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