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Henin ruins Williams party
July 05, 2007 10:21 IST
Justine Henin [Images] wrecked the 4th of July festivities for the Williams sisters at Wimbledon on Wednesday.
Venus started off the family celebrations on American Independence Day when she easily repelled second seed Maria Sharapova [Images] 6-1, 6-3 in a fourth-round battle of former champions.
But Henin extinguished hopes of an all-Williams final by storming into the last four with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 win over a "40 percent fit" Serena.
While Henin managed to dodge the showers to set up a semi-final clash with Marion Bartoli, Rafael Nadal [Images] and Novak Djokovic joined a growing band of players critical of the tournament's arcane scheduling.
The duo finally completed three-day marathons to reach the fourth round of a soggy Wimbledon.
In a contest that had been scheduled for Saturday, started on Monday and was hit by five rain breaks, 2006 runner-up Nadal squeezed past Sweden's Robin Soderling 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 4-6, 7-5.
Arms aloft, Nadal fell to his knees in relief when he clinched victory on his sixth match point, the last five coming two days after the first.
"I was here for maybe five years. I don't remember something like this... it was maybe the toughest match of my career," said Nadal, whose on court action lasted four hours.
He was annoyed that organisers did not allow play on the middle Sunday which is traditionally a rest day.
"I didn't understand why we didn't play on Sunday. The weather was okay, so much better than yesterday, Monday and today too.
"That's very tough for the players. They don't think very much about the players here," said Nadal, who will have to play every day this week if he is to reach Sunday's final.
However, if the triple French Open champion needed any inspiration to win a Grand Slam title outside Roland Garros, he would do well to cast his mind back to 2001 when another former Wimbledon finalist, Goran Ivanisevic, survived a three-day semi-final and went on to lift the trophy.
Fourth-seeded Serb Djokovic marked his 7-6, 6-7, 6-2, 7-6 win over Nicolas Kiefer with a silent prayer and sign of the cross.
A misfiring backhand from Kiefer finally ended third round proceedings on Wednesday, four days behind schedule. It was not long before Djokovic's anger spilled out.
"They knew the forecast for this week is going to be bad, is going to be a lot of rain. I didn't understand why they didn't have any play on Sunday. Plus Sunday was a very nice day so they would have finished all the matches."
Ranked 31st in the world, Venus walked on Centre Court as the underdog but that did not stop the American from bullying second seed and 2004 champion Sharapova into submission.
As the shell-shocked Russian swiftly exited Centre Court, a grinning Williams twirled around and declared "I love you all" to the crowd. She next meets fifth seed Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Sharapova's exit meant world number one Henin was the only survivor among the women's top four seeds following the defeats of Jelena Jankovic and Amelie Mauresmo on Tuesday.
In Mauresmo's absence, Bartoli continued to carry French hopes in the women's draw following a 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 triumph over Dutchwoman Michaella Krajicek.
Two days after limping and screaming her way to a fourth-round victory suffering from cramp, Serena re-emerged with her left calf tightly strapped.
The eight-times Grand Slam winner pulled off some spectacular winners on bended knees but could not stop Henin from stepping closer to winning the only Grand Slam title that eludes her. Afterwards Serena said she could hardly produce any backhands because of an injured thumb.
On a day usually reserved for men's quarter-finals, Andy Roddick [Images] also found himself lagging behind by a round but his battle with Paul-Henri Mathieu lasted only two days and he dispatched the Frenchman 6-2, 7-5, 7-6.
The third seed will next meet 12th seed Richard Gasquet.