Justine Henin-Hardenne only came to Australia to regain her confidence after an injury-plagued eight months. But she won the Sydney warm-up tournament, and has now reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open at Melbourne Park after knocking out the No 1 seed Lindsay Davenport yesterday.
The Belgian No 8 seed, who will play Maria Sharapova tomorrow, recovered from an abysmal first set during which she did not once hold serve. In the second and third sets she "just kept fighting and played every point 100 per cent", extracting a 2-6, 6-2, 6-3 victory in 1 hour 57 minutes.
Before coming to Australia, the 23-year-old Henin-Hardenne, a four-times Grand Slam champion, had barely competed since winning the French Open last year. "Just to be in the semis here is amazing after such a long time off injured, so I'm very pleased, very happy," she said.
Davenport, who has not won a major since 2000 and nearly retired 18 months ago, insisted that she was not demoralised. "I feel like I'm on a good path, and while things didn't pan out here, I'm not giving up," said the 29-year-old American, whose defeat will probably cost her the No 1 ranking. "Seeing some players and what they've been able to accomplish a little bit later in their careers has helped me. I couldn't see my life right now without it [tennis]. So I'll keep trying to improve and stay on top."
Sharapova, meanwhile, is keen to add another Grand Slam to her 2004 Wimbledon title. The Russian No 4 seed beat her compatriot Nadia Petrova 7-6, 6-4 in a quarter-final distinguished by poor form on both sides. Petrova, the No 6 seed, tried twice to serve out the first set, then failed to convert two set points in the tie-break, serving a double-fault at 6-7 to give away the set.
Sharapova, whose serve was broken four times, produced 36 unforced errors and eight double-faults. A frustrated Petrova, who berated herself constantly during the match, had 49 errors and 12 double-faults.
Sharapova will need to step up her game against Henin-Hardenne, who predicted that the semi-final would be a "tough match".
"She's a great fighter, she's confident and she wants to get to the final," the Belgian said of her Russian opponent, whose sponsorship deals have made her the world's highest earning sportswoman.
In the men's draw, Marcos Baghdatis, who ousted the second seed Andy Roddick in the fourth round, will contest his first Grand Slam semi-final after toppling his third seed of the tournament, the seventh-ranked Ivan Ljubicic, in a thrilling five-set match that ended at 1.15am local time.
The unseeded Cypriot, whose crowd-pleasing game and engaging manner have won him a cult following in Melbourne, dominated in the first two sets but then faltered, allowing the Croatian to level at two sets apiece. With both men playing in the quarter-finals of a major for the first time, each produced sensational tennis, particularly during the final set. But Baghdatis had the edge in the decider, breaking Ljubicic for a 3-1 lead and serving out a 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3 victory.
The 18-year-old Cypriot, who won the Australian Open junior title in 2003, said that everything went well until he started thinking too much. "I was putting some doubts in my head ... he started to serve well, got some confidence, it was going so fast I couldn't control the game," he said. "In the fifth set I said to myself, 'Play for every point', and that's what I did."
In the semi-finals Baghdatis will meet the Argentinian No 4 seed David Nalbandian, who demolished France's Fabrice Santoro 7-6, 6-0, 6-0 yesterday.
Australian Open Results
Quarter-finals: D NALBANDIAN (Arg) bt F Santoro (Fr) 7-5 6-0 6-0; M Baghdatis (Cyp) bt I LJUBICIC (Croa) 6-4 6-2 4-6 3-6 6-3.
Quarter-finals: J HENIN-HARDENNE (Bel) bt L DAVENPORT (US) 2-6 6-2 6-3; M SHARAPOVA (Rus) bt N PETROVA (Rus) 7-6 6-4.
Quarter-finals: M Fyrstenberg and M Matkowski (Pol) bt A Fisher (Aus) and J Gimelstob (US) 6-2 3-6 6-3; M DAMM (Cz Rep) and L PAES (Ind) bt J BJORKMAN (Swe) and M MIRNYI (Bela) 3-6 6-3 6-4.
Quarter-finals: L RAYMOND (US) and S STOSUR (Aus) bt G DULKO (Arg) and M KIRILENKO (Rus) 6-3 6-2; A-L GRONEFELD (Ger) and M SHAUGHNESSY (US) bt E LIKHOVTSEVA and V ZVONAREVA (Rus) 6-3 6-3; ZI YAN and JIE ZHENG (Ch) bt V RUANO PASCUAL (Sp) and P SUAREZ (Arg) 4-6 7-5 6-1; S ASAGOE (Japan) and K SREBOTNIK (Sloven) bt C BLACK (Zim) and R STUBBS (Aus) 6-3 4-6 6-0.
Second round: L Paes (Ind) and N Dechy (Fr) bt S Aspelin (Swe) and M Shaughnessy (US) 6-3 7-6; F Cermak (Cz Rep) and A-L Gronefeld (Ger) bt A Ram (Isr) and L Huber (SA) 6-2 6-3; B BRYAN (US) and V ZVONAREVA (Rus) bt L Friedl and L Safarova (Cz Rep) 6-2 6-1; D NESTOR (Can) and E LIKHOVTSEVA (Rus) bt N Djokovic and A Ivanovic (Serb-M) 3-6 6-1 7-6; P HANLEY and S STOSUR (Aus) bt J Thomas (US) and B Stewart (Aus) 6-4 6-3; T PERRY and R STUBBS (Aus) bt W ARTHURS (Aus) and A SUGIYAMA (Japan) 6-4 7-5; M Bhupathi (Ind) and M Hingis (Swit) bt J BJORKMAN (Swe) and L RAYMOND (US) 7-5 6-7 7-6.
Singles, first round: Selected: C WOZNIACKI (Den) bt J Curtis (GB) 6-2 6-2. Doubles, selected: M Brengle and K Frilling (US) bt J Curtis (GB) and E Nze (US) 7-5 6-3.
* seeded players in CAPITALS.