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Henin and Serena Homing In On A Quarterfinal Clash

The sun has set on a the first week at the French Open.  As usual there were upsets, many of them expected.  However, Serena Williams and Justine Henin, two pre-tournament  favorites, have not disappointed.  As such, the much touted quarterfinal encounter between these rivals is one round away.  Here is a synopsis of the main developments of the initial days.

A bunch of big names took a tumble in the bottom section of the draw.  Leading the pack was Svetlana Kuznetsova, the defending champion.  After a miserable tune-up, Kuznetsova looked every bit the champion in the first round.  Moreover, with her back against the wall in the second round, Kuznetsova salvaged four match points against Andrea Petkovic to advance.  But, by the third round, Kuznetsova had utilized all her life lines.  She was taken down in three sets by Maria Kirilenko.

Victoria Azarenka, the 9th seed, has had a tough year.  The 2009 Sony Ericsson champ was schooled by Gisela Dulko, exiting in the first round.  But, in the next round, Dulko was herself stunned by South African qualifier Channelle Scheepers.  Scheepers reached the fourth round where she was stopped by Elena Dementieva.  Another surprise was Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, the winner in Rome, also going out in the first round.

As the newly re-minted number two and a finalist in Madrid, expectations were high that Venus Williams would at least make the semifinals.  In the first three rounds, Venus forged a statement not only with her attire, but with her play by bouncing her adversaries in straight sets.  Yet, in the round of 16, Venus’ game went through a transformation.  Although this was their first meeting on clay, Venus had a  4-0 record against Nadia Petrova.  Still, Petrova, a 2005 semifinalist, pulled off a straight sets victory.  As such, for the fourth consecutive year, Venus was booted prior to the quarterfinals.

A combination of rain and obscurity resulted in a few matches being played over two days. When Aravane Rezai and Petrova resumed their third round with the third set leveled at 7, the French crowd was disenchanted as Petrova walked away with the win.  Later that day, France’s last hope, Marion Bartoli, in the top half of the draw, was eliminated in the fourth round by Shahar Peer.

After fighting through Aleksandra Wozniak in the third round and an easy fourth round win, 2004 finalist Dementieva is unquestionably a contender for the finals.  Caroline Wozniacki, the third seed, is another.  Following two uncomplicated rounds, Wozniacki was severely tested by Alexandra Dulgheru and still captured her third match in straight sets. Then, in the round of 16, warrior Wozniacki bested Flavia Pennetta in a three hour duel to move on to her first quarterfinal in Paris.  Bothered by an ankle injury, as Wozniacki faces scrappy Fransceca Schiavone, who booted Kirilenko, she may need to duplicated her last performance

Turning to the top half of the draw, Serena cruised through her first and second round.  In the third round, a bout of dizziness almost derailed the world number one.  However, Serena stuck with it and defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.  In the fourth round, Serena battles Peer.  If Serena carries the match, she will meet either Samantha Stosur, a 2009 semifinalist, or Henin.

Although Henin has won her first two encounters in two sets, they were not calisthenics.  Despite staring down Maria Sharapova in the third round, for Henin, there is obvious room for improvement.  Therefore, Stosur who lost to Henin in Stuttgart recently may prove a hard kill.

Dinara Safina, a finalist the last two years, was halted in the first round by Kimiko Date-Krumm.  The 39 year old overcame injury and a colossal third set deficit to steal the victory from the former world number one.  By the next round, Date-Krumm’s tank was empty; she was given her pink slip by Jarmila Groth.  Groth continued to build on her success, she is in the round of 16 for the first time at a  major.  Groth will take on another newcomer to that stage Yaroslva Shvedova.  Subsequent to Aleysa Kleybanova thumping Ana Ivanovic in the second round, Shvedova surprised her in the third round. The prior round, 22 year old  Shvedova terminated Agnieszka Radwanska, the 8th seed.  As a result, either Groth or Shvedova will make her first quarterfinal appearance at a major against either Jelena Jankovic or Daniela Hantuchova.

Following a commanding first round match, Jankovic’s second and the third rounds required a lot more effort.  In the fourth round, Jankovic collides with Hantuchova who has yet to surrender a set.  Although their head to head is knotted at 3 apiece, Hantuchova captured both meetings this year and on clay.  Thus, if Hantuchova is mentally firm, she may disillusion her rival and reach her first French Open quarterfinal.

Five of the top ten women have survived through to the second week.  Of these, Serena is still the one with the greatest chance of seizing the trophy.  Regardless, Henin, the four time champion, may have a part to play in that outcome.  If these two progress to a quarterfinal meeting, Henin has the odds skewed in favor.  No disrespect meant to the rest of the field, but, such a match will decide the eventual owner of the trophy.

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