Martina Hingis may have bowed out of the Australian Open, but she has served notice on the top players that she considers herself their equals and is only just beginning her Grand Slam comeback.
After reaching the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park, where she was beaten in three sets yesterday by Kim Clijsters, soon to occupy the world No 1 ranking, Hingis said she planned to step up her game in order to defeat players of that calibre.
The five times Grand Slam champion, who has returned to top-level tennis after a three-year injury lay-off, said: "Now I definitely have something to aim for." Hingis astonished everyone - including herself - by progressing so far before losing 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 to Clijsters, who was due to play Amélie Mauresmo, the French No 3 seed, in the semi-finals today.
Mauresmo yesterday squashed Patty Schnyder, 6-3, 6-0 in 52 minutes, in a match that the latter ruefully called "one of the rare ones where there was no match at all". Justine Henin-Hardenne was due to play Maria Sharapova in the other semi-final.
Asked whether she could now compete in the top 10, Hingis retorted: "Well, I made the last eight, and all the others are either former No 1s or top 10 players. If you can make the final eight, you definitely have the belief."
Australia has proved the perfect springboard for the Swiss woman, a former world No 1 herself, although, as she remarked yesterday, "you can't let three years pass by and think that you're going to step out there and win everything".
For a while, it looked as if the quarter-final would be a walkover. Hingis took 20 minutes to get on the board, and held serve only twice in the first set. But Clijsters was out of sorts and, as her errors piled up (49 in all, compared with Hingis's 31), her opponent managed to level at one set all.
In the third set Hingis saved two match points before succumbing to Clijsters. Hingis said the third set "just kind of slipped away ... she had the edge over me, but I was happy to make it three sets and a good fight".
In the men's draw, Nicolas Kiefer, of Germany, will play the top seed, Roger Federer, in the semi-finals tomorrow after beating France's Sébastien Grosjean 6-3, 0-6, 6-4, 6-7, 8-6 in 4hr 46 min yesterday.
The momentum swung back and forth during the marathon encounter, which was interrupted for several minutes in the fifth set after Kiefer, the No 21 seed, flung his racket over the net during an over-enthusiastic forehand volley. Grosjean missed his overhead and was furious when the umpire, Carlos Bernades, allowed the point. The referee, Mike Morrissey, was called but refused to overrule Bernades.
Kiefer denied throwing his racket on purpose. "It's not nice, but what can I do?" he said. Grosjean was still fuming afterwards despite winning that game. "He's not allowed to throw his racket if the point is not over," said the No 25.
Against Federer, who yesterday beat Russia's Nikolay Davydenko 6-4, 3-6, 7-6, 7-6, Kiefer has lost seven of their last 10 matches.
Davydenko served for the third set against the world No 1 but Federer's class and the Russian's nerves saw the Swiss break. Federer then took the tie-break, despite having trailed 4-1.
David Nalbandian, ranked No 4, was due to play Marcos Baghdatis, the unseeded Cypriot, in the first semi-final today.
Australian Open results
Quarter-finals: R FEDERER (Swit) bt N DAVYDENKO (Rus) 6-4 3-6 7-6 7-6; N KIEFER (Ger) bt S GROSJEAN (Fr) 6-3 0-6 6-4 6-7 8-6.
Quarter-finals: A MAURESMO (Fr) bt P SCHNYDER (Swit) 6-3 6-0; K CLIJSTERS (Bel) bt M Hingis (Swit) 6-3 2-6 6-4.
Quarter-finals: B BRYAN and M BRYAN (US) bt J Hernych (Cz Rep) and I Karlovic (Croa) 6-3 3-6 6-1; P HANLEY (Aus) and K ULLYETT (Zim) bt S ASPELIN (Swe) and T PERRY (Aus) 6-3 4-6 6-3.
Semi-finals: L RAYMOND (US) and S STOSUR (Aus) bt A-L GRONEFELD (Ger) and M SHAUGHNESSY (US) 6-2 6-4; ZI YAN and JIE ZHENG (Ch) bt S ASAGOE (Japan) and K SREBOTNIK (Sloven) 6-2 7-6.
Quarter-finals: D NESTOR (Can) and E LIKHOVTSEVA (Rus) bt B BRYAN (US) and V ZVONAREVA (Rus) 6-4 6-4.
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