It took five tournaments and 18 matches to achieve but an opponent finally got the better of Justine Henin at the Barclays Dubai Championships here last night. Francesca Schiavone, a 27-year-old Italian, was the unlikely giant-slayer as Henin suffered her first defeat at the Aviation Club.
The world No 1 made too many errors and played too tentatively as Schiavone won their quarter-final 7-6, 7-6. Although Henin had played what she considered her best tennis of the year in beating Katarina Srebotnik the previous night, that three-hour match appeared to have taken a lot out of her.
Schiavone, who now plays Elena Dementieva after the Russian's surprise win over Ana Ivanovic, is a gritty performer, but Henin was well below her best. The four-times champion had dropped only one set in winning all seven of their previous meetings.
The first set was tight, but Schiavone's positive approach paid off as she took the tie-break 7-3, winning the last three points with an ace and two volleys.
In the second set Schiavone made two successive breaks and served for the match at 5-2, but the Italian's boldness deserted her as Henin fought back to lead 6-5. The Belgian again went on the defensive, however, and lost the second tie-break 7-4. Henin, who has been recovering after a cortisone injection in her injured right knee, said: "She played well, but I didn't take my opportunities. I wasn't brave enough and she really took her chances."
Svetlana Kuznetsova and Jelena Jankovic will meet in the other semi-final. Kuznetsova beat Amélie Mauresmo 6-1, 7-6, while Jankovic's opponent, Anna Chakvetadze, retired with a thigh injury.
There was further evidence of the game's efforts to clamp down on corruption when a spectator was taken out of the stands for questioning during the Henin match after he was overheard relaying point-by-point scores via his mobile telephone. Gamblers watching live have an advantage over those who see TV pictures or Internet scores a few seconds later. Officials fear that punters are communicating with associates by mobile phone direct from the stadiums.
The incident was the second time this week a spectator has been questioned.Reuse content