Belgians Rule Day Three
MADRID, Spain - Justine Henin-Hardenne is one victory away from reclaiming the top of the world. By defeating Nadia Petrova, 64 64, on Thursday, she secured the first Sony Ericsson Championships semifinal spot. If she makes the final this weekend, she will not only reclaim the No.1 ranking, she also has the chance to capture her first Sony Ericsson Championships singles title and a share of the $3,000,000 purse.
"I have one more match tomorrow in my group," Henin-Hardenne said. "Then I can be focused on the semifinal, but I will play it with the goal to go into the final, not to be No.1. If not, it's going to be a big mistake. Because if I have a chance to win this match, for sure I won't win the final if I think about that. I don't want to look too far."
Henin-Hardenne didn't compete at this season-ending event the last two years due to injuries. She also missed the last three months with a knee injury. A victory here would make up for most of the pain suffered in the past.
Current world No.1 Amelie Maursmo, who rallied from a set down to post a 36 61 64 win over No.8 Martina Hingis, will join Henin-Hardenne in the semis if she beats her on Friday in their final round robin match. If Mauresmo loses, she will finish fourth in the Yellow Group and give Hingis the right to play in the semis. If Mauresmo beats Henin-Hardenne in straight sets, she'll finish No.1 in the group, but if the Frenchwoman needs three sets, Henin-Hardenne is first.
"I'm still alive in the group," said Mauresmo, who lost her opener to Petrova on Tuesday. "That was obviously the main thing for me today, because losing this match, I would have been out."
Mauresmo had four match points at 5-2 in the third set on Thursday but couldn't close it out right away. Hingis had a chance to break back for 5-5 but Mauresmo hung tight in the best match so far this week. Even if she wins the title here, she will not able to keep her No.1 ranking at the end of the year.
The scenarios are bit more complicated in the Red Group. If No.2 Maria Sharapova wins a set against No.4 Svetlana Kuznetsova on Friday, she advances to the semis. The rest is up to No.6 Kim Clijsters and Kuznetsova. Clijsters will take on winless Elena Dementieva, while Kuznetsova has a huge task against undefeated Sharapova. If Clijsters and Kuznetsova win in straight sets, the top three players have a 2-1 record and a 4-2 set record. If Kuznetsova wins in three sets and Clijsters needs only two, Clijsters advances, and the same applies in reverse.
Clijsters played a phenomenal match against Kuznetsova Thursday. The two-time champion swept aside the 21-year-old Russian, 61 61, in 45 minutes, committing only four unforced errors. That's remarkable considering the Belgian hasn't competed for the last two months due to a left wrist injury.
"I really felt like I had to play well today," Clijsters said. "Having a little bit of pressure of winning, I think that's another thing that really motivated me a lot. I was really ready to go and I was seeing the ball a lot better than I was yesterday."
If Clijsters loses a set and Kuznetsova doesn't, Sharapova and Kuznetsova advance based on set percentage. If Kuznetsova and Clijsters both lose, there will be a three-way tie between Clijsters, Kuznetsova and Dementeiva. Then the decision will be based on set percentages.
"I hope to play better tomorrow," Kuznetsova said. "But Sharapova's in excellent shape. She hasn't lost a match still. It will all depend on my serve, if I can put pressure on her I will have chances, but I need to give my best."
Sharapova is indeed in excellent form. The 19-year-old, who claimed the title here two years ago, won her 18th consecutive match on Wednesday, the longest win streak of the year. She surpassed Henin-Hardenne's 17-match streak, which snapped earlier this year in the Wimbledon final.
No.5 Nadia Petrova will not advance to the semifinal. After defeating Mauresmo on Tuesday in her opener, the Russian lost two straight matches to finish the year with a 48-19 record.
"I'm disappointed with the way I played," Petrova said, "and also there's some things going in my team which are a little bit frustrating. For once I really felt like I have the right people around me, but now they are not really fitting well together. It looks like I'll have to look maybe for another person.