They do themselves in with unforced errors, and the mistakes cost Henin-Hardenne her No. 1 ranking.
By Associated Press
Published September 7, 2004
NEW YORK - Venus Williams grunted loudly, Lindsay Davenport muttered to herself and about 20,000 fans jumped out of their seats after each point.
A few hours before defending champion Justine Henin-Hardenne meekly left the U.S. Open with a loss to Nadia Petrova, Williams and Davenport were locked in a matchup fit for a Grand Slam final, not the fourth round. So, too, was the riveting last game.
Seven major titles and 49 weeks at No. 1 between them, Davenport and Williams swapped powerful strokes and anxious moments in a final act encompassing 24 points over 13 minutes Monday. Nine deuces. Five break points for 2000-01 Open champion Williams. Five match points for 1998 Open champ Davenport.
In the end Davenport was steadier and stronger, pulling out that game and a 7-5, 6-4 win to reach the quarterfinals. It was a tight way to end the pair's 25th meeting: They came in with 12 wins each.
"A tough one to get through," said Davenport, who faces 62nd-ranked Shinobu Asagoe for a semifinal berth. "I wanted to win so badly, and I played such a great, calm match until (the last game) and then let a few errors creep in."
She and Amelie Mauresmo have a chance to replace Henin-Hardenne at No. 1 after the Belgian's 6-3, 6-2 loss to No. 14 Petrova.
Henin-Hardenne was betrayed by her best shot, the backhand, which she flubbed on the final point of the first set and the final points in each game when she was broken twice in the second set.
Henin-Hardenne, who returned from nearly three months off with a viral infection to win an Olympic gold medal, had 30 errors.
That wasn't as many as Williams, who since playing her first Slam in 1997 never had gone an entire season without reaching at least one major semifinal. She hurt herself with 42 miscues.
"It was me. I made too many errors," Williams said.
That problem has led to her slide to a No. 12 ranking. Davenport, meanwhile, has won 21 straight matches.
Another big-name showdown is looming in the men's quarterfinals: Andre Agassi vs. Roger Federer. Agassi has won eight major titles, and the top-ranked Federer has won three of the past five.
Agassi advanced Monday with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 victory over occasional practice partner Sargis Sargsian, who was on court for nearly 10 hours in his previous two outings. This one took 90 minutes.
Federer spent less time in action because his opponent, No. 16 Andrei Pavel, pulled out with a herniated disc in his lower back. Federer is in the Open quarterfinals for the first time. He lost in the fourth round the past three years.
"There's nothing more you ask for than to play a big event against the best player in this environment," said Agassi, the 1994 and '99 Open winner.
Quarterfinalists No. 5 Tim Henman and No. 22 Dominik Hrbaty meet for a semifinal slot. Playing on his 30th birthday, Henman got through when No. 19 Nicolas Kiefer quit with a right wrist injury while down 3-0 in the fifth. Hrbaty came back to eliminate Olivier Rochus 2-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-0.
"I'm slowing up already," Henman said, smiling.
Mary Pierce, a two-time major champion enjoying a bit of a renaissance at 29, lost in the fourth round to No. 9 Svetlana Kuznetsova 7-6 (7-5), 6-2. Kuznetsova plays Petrova next.
Asagoe upset No. 29 Eleni Daniilidou 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 6-3, making her the lowest-ranked Open quarterfinalist since Williams was 66th in her 1997 debut.
How long ago that seems.
Williams needs to regroup and recapture the drive that carried her to the top ranking, four Slam titles and six runnerup finishes. This year she had early exits at the Australian Open (third round), French Open (quarterfinals) and Wimbledon (second round).
She missed the second half of last season, including the Open, with a torn abdominal muscle and had to try to deal with the shooting death of half-sister, Yetunde, in September 2003.
"I'm really disappointed (about) all this year's Grand Slams. But I've learned that the position that I'm in is not necessarily my fault," Williams said. "I can't be hard on myself."