Day Two Wrap
MADRID, Spain - Martina Hingis' 64 36 63 victory over Nadia Petrova on Wednesday night not only kept the resurgent former world No.1 in the hunt for a semifinal berth at the Sony Ericsson Championships, it meant Amélie Mauresmo will lose her No.1 ranking on Monday.
The fight for the 2006 year-end No.1 spot went from a three-way battle the first time this had taken place at a season-ending Tour Championships to a showdown between current No.2 Maria Sharapova and No.3 Justine Henin-Hardenne. While Mauresmo still has a chance to successfully defend her title, that will not be enough now that Henin-Hardenne is certain not to finish fourth in the Yellow Group.
"I think she underestimated me," Hingis said about Petrova. "Even after she watched me yesterday, and she had a great match against Amelie. She played very well, very solid serving. And I knew I had to come out strong in the beginning otherwise I'll be blown away."
Hingis lost her opening match on Tuesday to Henin-Hardenne. The two-time champ has not competed at this event since 2000, the year she won her second title.
While Sharapova positioned herself for the semifinals with a 64 64 triumph over two-time champion Kim Clijsters, countrywoman Elena Dementieva approached the tournament exit after a 75 63 loss to Svetlana Kuznetsova. Sharapova has not dropped a set at this $3,000,000 season-ending event, while Dementieva has yet to win one. She has one more round robin match left against Clijsters.
"Personally for me, I couldn't play my best these days," said Dementieva, the only player to compete here every year since 2000. "But I was enjoying to be here, and I love the arena. I love the center court, and the atmosphere."
Sharapova has other things on her mind. If she wins the title and Henin-Hardenne loses in the semifinals or earlier, she will finish the year on top. If the two meet in the final, Henin-Hardenne will be No.1.
In a baseline duel between two hard hitters, Kuznetsova denied herself plenty opportunities by going for too much against a steady Dementieva. At 3-2 in the first set, she missed one of several break opportunities by placing a huge down-the-line forehand a few inches wide. Both players struggled with their serves, committing seven double faults apiece.
"I didn't use a lot of chances in the first set," Kuznetsova said. "I was losing my concentration, but I think it's also normal after a long year. I had a week off and was about three weeks without competition. This is a very important tournament for me. I was very tense and nervous and couldn't control it all the way today."
Kuznetsova wasted two set points on Dementieva's serve at 5-4 before finally breaking her in the 12th game. She quickly raced to a 4-1 lead in the second set.
2004 champion Sharapova collected her second victory over Clijsters this year. She finally defeated the Belgian this summer in the San Diego final after losing the first four encounters. The mental toughness that helped her win the US Open this year, came through again Wednesday. Facing two break points in the second set at 5-4, 15-40, she answered with a ferocious serve straight at Clijsters' body and followed up with a powerful net approach that sent the game to deuce. On match point, she sent a blistering ace down the middle only to raise her arms in victory.
"I was lucky I could serve it out," Sharapova said. "I wasn't making any first serves at the beginning of that game."
Sharapova managed the only break of the first set at 2-2 when one of her forehand top spin volleys spun out of Clijsters' reach. The 19-year-old stayed focused throughout the set and claimed it on a laser sharp backhand down the line.
"I never really had a chance to get into the match," Clijsters said. "Both, I think, because she was playing well, and in that first set I wasn't feeling the ball at all."
But Clijsters found her rhythm in the second and pressured Sharapova's serve right away. The Russian saved three break points in her first two service games.
"I think the quality of my tennis today was quite high," Sharapova said. "I felt like I was moving really well. No matter how deep or big some of her shots were, I still felt like I was in position after them. And that just comes from playing a lot of matches, I think."
Petrova has a chance to revive her fighting spirits against Henin-Hardenne in Thursday's first round robin match. She has nothing to lose against the Belgian, who leads the head-to-head series 8-2 and won two of three encounters this year. Mauresmo can enter the match against Hingis without the pressure of having to defend her ranking. The Frenchwoman beat her twice this year but the Swiss leads the overall series 7-6. In the final match, Clijsters hopes to rebound against Kuznetsova, who has beaten the Belgian only once in six career meetings.