PARIS — Justine Henin kept saying it, even if no one was listening.
She's not back to being the player she was before taking a 20-month hiatus from tennis. She's still searching for consistency on the court. Too many "ups and downs," to use her term.
Turns out Henin was right. Betrayed down the stretch by her best stroke, the backhand, and by her usually steely nerves, the four-time French Open champion lost to No. 7-seeded Sam Stosur of Australia 2-6, 6-1, 6-4 in the fourth round Monday, ending Henin's 24-match winning streak at her favorite tournament.
"Everyone wants to see me (at) the level that I was," said Henin, who abruptly retired in May 2008 while ranked No. 1, then returned to the tour this season and reached the Australian Open final in January. "I still have to work a lot, quite simply."
Thanks to her 2005-07 titles at Roland Garros, and then the time away, it's been six years since Henin felt the sting of a loss at the clay-court Grand Slam tournament — all the way back in 2004's second round.
"Obviously, beating Justine is going to give me lots and lots of confidence for the next match," said Stosur, a French Open semifinalist in 2009 and a tour-best 18-2 on clay this year. "That's obviously a great achievement for me, but it's not over yet. I'm just in the quarters and going to play the No. 1 player in the world next."
That would be Serena Williams, who stumbled at the start before cruising to a 6-2, 6-2 victory over No. 18 Shahar Peer of Israel. Williams dropped the first seven points of the match, then immediately took nine a row and was on her way.
"I seem to always be able to turn it up during this particular stage," said Williams, who won two of the past three Grand Slam tournaments and owns 12 major titles.
The other quarterfinal in that half of the draw will be No. 4 Jelena Jankovic of Serbia against 36th-ranked Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan. Jankovic beat No. 23 Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia 6-4, 6-2, while Shvedova eliminated 107th-ranked Jarmila Groth of Australia 6-4, 6-3.
In men's fourth-round matches, four-time champion Rafael Nadal improved to 200-16 on clay over his career by overcoming four breaks of serve to defeat No. 24 Thomaz Bellucci of Brazil 6-2, 7-5, 6-4. A year ago, Nadal lost in the fourth round – he was 31-0 at Roland Garros before that stunning exit against Robin Soderling — but he insisted that didn't make him any more careful this time.
Now Nadal will meet No. 19 Nicolas Almagro, who knocked off No. 7 Fernando Verdasco 6-4, 1-6, 6-1, 6-4. Also Monday, No. 3 Novak Djokovic of Serbia eliminated the last U.S. man in the tournament, 98th-ranked Robby Ginepri of Kennesaw, Ga., 6-4, 2-6, 6-1, 6-2, and No. 22 Jurgen Melzer of Austria beat 114th-ranked qualifier Teimuraz Gabashvili of Russia 7-6 (6), 4-6, 6-1, 6-4.
At 29, Melzer is the oldest man left in the field. He's also reached his first Grand Slam quarterfinal in 32 appearances.
"Well, to be the oldest player is not a special feeling," Melzer said. "Reaching the quarterfinals for the first time — that's a special feeling."
Williams might have forgotten what it feels like to reach the semifinals in Paris: She hasn't been that far at the French Open since 2003, a year after she won her only championship at the tournament.
"I feel prepared every year, and I always dive out in the quarters," Williams said. "I'm just trying to get past that this year, hopefully."
She owns a 3-1 record against Stosur, including a victory at January's Australian Open. Stosur's win came on a hard court at Stanford, Calif., last year, and Williams was hardly complimentary afterward, saying: "She had a lot of lucky shots; she's a good framer."
Williams had nicer things to say Monday, calling Stosur "someone you can't overlook," and adding: "She's no pushover, that's for sure."
Told of those remarks, and reminded about what Williams declared in 2009, Stosur smiled.
"I guess a lot of people have changed their idea about what kind of tennis player I am recently," Stosur said. "I guess that's a good thing."
For years, she was known primarily as a doubles specialist, winning two Grand Slam titles apiece in mixed and women's. She began to fare better in singles in 2006, but then was off tour because of illness for about six months in 2007-08.
So she, like the 22nd-seeded Henin, knows what it's like to try to return to form after a layoff.
"I guess having that illness and being away from the game maybe scared me a little to think, 'OK, I've got to go out there and play and really try and achieve what I've wanted to," the 26-year-old Stosur said.
On Monday, she was outplayed in the first set, then steadied herself, driving deep shots through the chilly, windy conditions and compiling a 20-8 edge in winners over the last two sets.
Midway through the second, Henin fell, then chucked her racket.
"To see that probably did give me that little bit of extra lift," Stosur said, "and (made me) realize I had her rattled."
Still, Henin looked to be in good shape when she went ahead 4-3 in the final set. The Belgian wouldn't win another game — and even harder to believe, she was mainly responsible for her undoing.
"My nerves were simply not strong enough today," said Henin, playing for a fifth consecutive day because of disruptive weather.
At 4-all, Henin's pair of missed backhands and a double-fault led to a break. On the first point of the following game, with Stosur way out of position, Henin put a backhand into the net. Then she missed two more backhands to set up match point. Seconds later, Henin was walking to the net, extending her right arm to shake hands and offer congratulations to her opponent.
It had been awhile since she had to do that at the French Open.
"Disappointing. I mean, (it's) never easy to lose, and especially in this kind of situation," Henin said. "I just wanted so much that the adventure could keep going."
Powered by WordPress.com VIP