Henin, Kuznetsova advance to U.S. Open final

Sep 8, 2007 - 12:18 AM By Carl Dispoto PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

FLUSHING, NEW YORK (TICKER) -- Top-seeded Justine Henin picked a good time to solve Venus Williams.

The Belgian defeated the 12th-seeded American, 7-5 (7-2), 6-4, on Friday to advance to the U.S. Open final where she will face No. 4 Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia.

Henin secured her 11th Grand Slam final appearance by snapping a seven-match losing streak against Williams, an opponent she hadn't faced since 2003. The world No. 1, who defeated No. 8 Serena Williams in the quarterfinals, also became the first player since Martina Hingis in the 2001 to defeat the Williams sisters in a Grand Slam.

"It's a great feeling," Henin said. "I don't think a lot of people believed I could beat her here in this tournament and I'm very proud. It's not easy to beat Venus and Serena. I probably didn't trust myself in the past against them, but I trust myself much more now. It's very important for me to play both of them in this tournament."

Neither Henin nor Venus Williams appeared to be at 100 percent in there ninth career meeting. Henin battled breathing problems and visited with a trainer following her first-set victory.

Meanwhile, Venus Williams received treatment midway through the second set after complaining of dizziness. The 27-year-old had her pulse checked and her temperature taken by the trainer before resuming, but played lethargically thereafter.

"I was just feeling dizzy, a little sick to the stomach and having some energy problems," Venus Williams said. "I'm not really sure what's wrong with me. Normally when you get hurt or sick, there is nothing that can be done, you just have to get through it."

Henin was somewhat sarcastic following the win when she stated that she was "surprised" Venus Williams was blaming health problems for the loss.

"I don't care about that," she said. "I saw the doctor too and I could say I wasn't 100 percent but I was fighting 100 percent and she was doing the same."

Following her quarterfinal loss to Henin, Serena Williams had insinuated that the victory was lucky.

"They are champion players and I have no problem saying that," Henin said. "But you have to ask them what they think about my game."

The 5-foot-5 Henin eliminated both bigger, stronger competitors by displaying an array of shots, hitting the lines and lofting lobs over the head of the 6-foot-1 Venus Williams in a match that lasted nearly two hours.

It was hardly easy however, as Henin squandered double-set point in the opening set and was forced into a tiebreak. She won six of the final seven points to finish the set.

Henin won the first three games of the second set, but Venus Williams, who was consistently exasperated by Henin's ability to cover ground and return shots, staged an unlikely rally to forge a 3-3 tie.

Venus Williams asked for a trainer during the change over and subsequently squandered triple-break point in the next game as Henin stormed back for a 4-3 lead.

It was Henin's ability to prolong volleys that proved to be the difference.

"I was just trying for short points," Venus Williams said. "But it wasn't easy today. She played well and she deserved it. She hung in there and played tough, even when I broke her."

It was then Henin's turn to nearly miss triple-break point as she miss-hit a pair of easy second serves from Venus Williams. But Venus Williams hit a volley long to fall behind 5-2 and give Henin the chance to serve for the match.

Henin surprisingly failed to capitalize and lost four straight points, including a double-fault that handed Venus Williams another chance. But the following game was anti-climactic as Venus Williams badly yanked a pair of returns, including a wild backhand on match point that sailed wide for her 35th unforced error.

Venus Williams failed to avenge the loss of her sister or take advantage of a supportive crowd that clearly favored the only remaining American at the Open.

"I tried my best today," she said. "I'm disappointed, but I don't feel as badly as if I just played badly. But I was fighting some circumstances. This is sports. But despite the circumstances I feel like I should have found a way."

Henin, meanwhile, will compete for the U.S. Open title for the second straight year and try for her seventh career Grand Slam championship. She won here in 2003 and lost to Maria Sharapova in the final here last year.

Henin holds 14-2 advantage in the all-time series with her finals opponent. However, Kuznetsova won their most recent meeting earlier this year at the Berlin Open.

The 22-year-old Kuznetsova bounced back from a horrid start for a 3-6, 6-1, 6-1 victory over No. 6 Anna Chakvetadze in the early semifinal.

Kuznetsova, who admitted that she was nervous early and barely tested Chakvetadze with 21 unforced errors in the first set.

"I knew it was my opportunity," Kuznetsova said. "I was just not doing anything at all. It was not the best match I've played but it was a great challenge for me."

Playing in her first Grand Slam semifinal, Chakvetadze needed just one winner in the first and held serve to open the second set.

"I didn't know how she was feeling because in the first set I was playing against myself," Kuznetsova said. "I made a lot of mistakes."

Kuznetsova continued to struggle, falling behind 0-40 in the second game, grunting louder and becoming more animated the further she fell behind. But the veteran rallied for three straight points and forced deuce after hitting a forehand that hit just inside the baseline.

"But I just looked at it as a challenge and I was still fighting," Kuznetsova said. "It's still a two-hour match so even if the first set goes bad, the beautiful thing about tennis is there is always the chance to come back."

Chakvetadze lost a challenge and Kuznetsova seized the opportunity to turn the tide of the match, taking the game after a pair of extended volleys and breaking serve to take 3-1 lead.

"I played good in the second set and I knew if I kept going I was going to win," Kuznetsova said. "I felt like I was in control of the match."

The more Chakvetadze was tested, the more she seemed to struggle. She completely missed the ball on an overhand shot due to the wind en route to dropping her second service break and fell behind 4-1 in the second.

After making just nine unforced errors in the first set, Chakvetadze had 17 in the second and 20 in the third. Usually calm and composed for her age, the 20-year-old's frustration boiled over after falling behind 0-40 in the opening game of the final set as she tossed her racket across the court.

The outburst appeared to be a turning point as Chakvetadze won the next four points, but her apparent forehand winner on the following exchange was challenged by Kuznetsova, who did not even attempt to return the shot. The ball was ruled out, but Chakvetadze won the next two points and displayed more emotion, pumping both fists.

Also a native of Russia, Chakvetadze nearly rallied to take the second game but hit a backhand and a forehand wide on consecutive volleys to lose the game and Kuznetsova stormed into the final.

Chakvetadze finished with 46 unforced errors, including four double faults. She won an abysmal 40 percent (27-of-67) of points on her serve and only 15-of-36 on her first serve.

It was a disappointing and unexpected finish for Chakvetadze, who had not dropped a set heading into the match. She in winless in three career meetings with Kuznetsova.

"I just played horrible," she said. "I didn't expect it to be such a turnaround after the first set. I'm very disappointed with the way I played. I didn't want to just win in straight sets but at least play maybe more than 50 percent than I can. But that didn't happen."

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