Kuznetzova struggles into last eight

Kim did it first. Lindsay did it quickest. Jennifer did it with most confidence. And Justine did it with style.

All the favourites in the women's fourth-round matches yesterday eased into today's quarter-finals in straight sets with the exception of the No 33 seed, Svetlana Kuznetzova, who needed three dramatic see-saw sets to end the hopes of 16-year-old Maria Sharapova.

For Kim Clijsters, Lindsay Davenport, Jennifer Capriati and Justine Henin-Hardenne, it was business as usual. For Sharapova is was business unusual. After starting so well in her previous matches, all of which she took in straight sets, she was unable to settle easily yesterday.

Kuznetzova's booming returns saw the seed take the first set 6-1 and move to a 2-0 lead in the second. Sharapova then clawed back with all the nerve that had brought her this far to win six games in a row for 6-2. In the third set she fell a break down at 3-1 but broke back twice for 4-3. Kuznetzova broke back and held serve for 5-4. Then, at 6-5 to Kuznetzova, with Sharapova serving, the latter was unable to refrain from attempting successive huge drives, which fell long and sealed her exit.

Clijsters was the first woman to book her place in the last eight when she concluded a powerful show against Ai Sugiyama, 6-3, 6-2, in 49 minutes. Clijsters now faces the No 27 seed, Silvia Farina Elia, after the latter beat the lower-ranked Paola Suarez, 7-5, 7-6 to progress.

Davenport secured the swiftest win, overwhelming Shinobu Asagoe of Japan 6-4, 6-1 in 47 minutes. She faces Venus Williams next. Henin-Hardenne, the French Open champion, utilised her trademark waspish, single-handed backhand to flick Mary Pierce, the 2000 French Open winner, out of the All England Club, 6-3, 6-3.

Capriati, the former world No 1, secured an effortless victory, 6-2, 6-3, over Anastasia Myskina of Russia, to earn a quarter-final against Serena Williams, the current world No 1.

Capriati, who has evidently recovered fully from recent eye surgery to remove sunspots, played with more fluency than at any stage of the Championships so far. Her service was strong and accurate and the placement of her shots was true.

The No 8 seed said she was "fired up" to face Serena, who has won eight of their previous 12 meetings but was beaten in a three-set thriller in the 2001 quarter-finals here.

"I feel confident," Capriati said. "I feel comfortable on grass. Serena has obviously been playing well and improved so much since two years ago. But I am going to be really psyched up. Anyone that I play, especially the No 1 player in the world, I am going to get fired up."

Myskina, one of five Russians in the last 16 - four of whom will go no further - was outplayed and outrun by Capriati, who established a 4-0 in the first 15 minutes and never let her dominance slip. "I kept the pressure on, I stayed concentrated," Capriati said.

"I thought she looked great today," said her showbiz friend, Matthew Perry, aka Chandler from Friends, who was in the Court 18 stands to watch. He'll be there for her, apparently.

Success today over Serena Williams would secure a third Wimbledon semi-final for Capriati, who first reached the last four as a 15-year-old in 1991. She then endured her descent from teenage prodigy to dope-smoking shoplifter before achieving a grand renaissance and three Grand Slam titles. "And I'll be trying to win this tournament," she said yesterday.

Pierce saw her SW19 adventure ended by Henin-Hardenne as class prevailed over force. Despite still wearing plastered strapping on her injured left hand, the 20-year-old Belgian progressed in 51 minutes.

Pierce started both sets competently but was unable to counter the nous of Henin-Hardenne on the big points or the pace as the match went on. Henin-Hardenne broke for a 4-3 lead in the opener and then picked apart Pierce's next service game. The second set was similar, with Henin-Hardenne's greater mobility and shot selection the telling factors. Pierce netted a careless forehand to go 5-3 down and although she saved two match points a third was beyond her.

Comments