No.1 Ranking on the Line in Semis
MADRID, Spain - The Robin Robin phase is over. No more second chances. And on Saturday, Justine Henin-Hardenne and Maria Sharapova will fight for the No.1 ranking in the semifinals at the $3-million Sony Ericsson Championships.
The semifinal spots and top two player standings and were determined on Friday with four current or former world No.1 players left standing.
Amelie Mauresmo and Justine Henin-Hardenne placed Nos. 1 and 2 respectively in the Yellow Group, and in the Red Group, Maria Sharapova placed ahead of Kim Clijsters, setting up a match against Henin-Hardenne for the top Sony Ericsson WTA Tour ranking.
If Henin-Hardenne defeats Sharapova, she will finish the year as the world's No.1 by virtue of reaching the final. For Sharapova to be No.1, she needs to beat Henin-Hardenne and win the title. If she doesn't win the title, Henin-Hardenne will take over the top ranking from current world No.1 Mauresmo, who still has a chance to defend her Championships title.
After a 62 62 loss to Nadia Petrova in her opening match on Tuesday, Mauresmo rebounded with back-to-back three-set wins - first over Martina Hingis on Thursday, followed by a gutsy 46 76(3) 62 win over Justine Henin-Hardenne on Friday. Her win over Henin-Hardenne secured her spot in the semis and placed her first in her group.
"I'm just very, very happy and very proud about (coming back from Tuesday's loss)," Mauresmo said. "The next day, I went back on the court and let the frustration out and also came back yesterday and today from one set down to finally get the win."
No.1 seed Mauresmo needed to beat Henin-Hardenne, who had already moved into the semis, to advance into the final four round. If Mauresmo didn't win, the second spot would have gone to No.8 seed Martina Hingis.
After dropping the first set, Mauresmo showed her mettle in a tight second set that was determined in a tie-break.
"I think the tiebreak, when she double fault at 3-all, was a key moment," Mauresmo said. "It was really, really close until that last point of the tiebreak. So I think until then it could have gone either way."
After winning the tie-break, Mauresmo went on cruise control and claimed victory.
"I walked on to the court to win the match," Henin-Hardenne said. "I proved it during two sets. I had a lot of motivation. I played well during two sets. It wasn't good enough at the end... ."
Another player who admitted to on-court shortcomings was Svetlana Kuznetsova. The No.4-seeded Russian couldn't rebound from a tough 61 61 loss on Thursday to Clijsters and suffered yet another loss on Friday, this time, 61 64, against Sharapova.
"I had my chances. I didn't use them," Kuznetsova said.
Despite her disappointment, Kuznetsova was positive about her experience at this year's Championships.
"I've enjoyed it. I'd like to play better especially in Madrid," she said. "I'd like to achieve a better result next year. I've got many things to improve, especially for indoor matches. I need to work on that and try to improve for next year."
As for Sharapova, she's thinking about her match against five-time Grand Slam champion Henin-Hardenne.
"It's going to be a good match. I beat her in the U.S. Open and I'm looking forward to tomorrow," said Sharapova, a two-time Grand Slam champion, most recently at this year's US Open. "She's playing good tennis again after months of injuries, and I'll go out there and give my best and do my best."
The winner of Henin-Hardenne vs. Sharapova will play the winner of Mauresmo vs. Clijsters in the final for the $1-million singles purse.
Former US Open champion Clijsters advanced into the semis with a 64 60 win over Russian Elena Dementieva, who entered this match with a 0-2 Round Robin record. Clijsters happens to be the only one of the final four to have not won a Grand Slam this year. Mauresmo claimed the Australian Open and Wimbledon titles; Henin-Hardenne won Roland Garros, and Sharapova took the US Open, a title Clijsters couldn't defend because of a wrist injury she sustained just two weeks before the tournament's start.
After being sidelined for 10 weeks because of the wrist injury, Clijsters' game continues to improve with each match. She won the Tier III title in Hasselt last Sunday as a warm-up to this week and like Mauresmo, lost her opening Round Robin match but stepped it up to win her next two.
"I just felt like after losing to Maria I started to play a lot better, played my best tennis especially against Svetlana Kuznetsova and today I played my important points as well," Clijsters explained.
In addition to singles semifinal action on Saturday, the doubles competition also gets underway with the top four teams this year taking to the court. First up at 11 a.m. local time will be Cara Black and Rennae Stubbs taking on No.2 seeds Zheng Jie. Top team Lisa Raymond and Samantha Stosur will face Kveta Peschke and Francesca Schiavone after the two singles matches.