Pierce triumphs on old-timers' day

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The Independent Online

Old-timers' day began with Martina Navratilova, who is approaching 49, advancing to the semi-finals of the women's doubles, partnering Anna-Lena Groenefeld, a 20-year-year old German, in a three-sets win against Svetlana Kuznetsova and Alicia Molik after two hours and 25 minutes.

The 30-year-old Mary Pierce, the oldest competitor in the women's singles, then reached her first semi-final here with a 6-4, 6-1 win against her French compatriot Amélie Mauresmo.

Pierce, who tomorrow plays the winner of last night's match between Lindsay Davenport and Elena Dementieva for a place in Saturday's final, had lost her previous four matches against Mauresmo. Yesterday, however, Pierce again displayed the form and fitness that brought her a straight-sets win against Belgium's Justine Henin-Hardenne in the fourth round, and Mauresmo made too many errors.

Kim Clijsters has won her three previous matches against Maria Sharapova, all on concrete courts. But none has been as important to either player as their forthcoming semi-final duel.

Sharapova, seeded No 1 at a Grand Slam championship for the first time in her fledgling career, had not previously advanced beyond the third round at Flushing Meadows. The 18-year-old Russian is determined to impress the Americans she has lived among since the age of nine.

For the 22-year-old Clijsters, who says she will play for two years more before calling time on her career to limit the wear and tear on her body, a fifth Grand Slam final beckons. The tennis community at large is willing the personable Belgian to win at least one major title before taking early retirement.

Whatever happens tomorrow, Clijsters and Sharapova are owed a vote of thanks for helping to breathe life into the women's singles event, which all but died on its feet in a one-sided opening week.

The fourth-seeded Clijsters, having put physical and personal problems behind her this year, came back from a set and 4-2 down against Venus Williams to leave the Wimbledon champion breathless in the quarter-finals on Tuesday night. Clijsters won 11 of the last 13 games to win, 4-6, 7-5, 6-1.

Sharapova, having been shaken out of a lapse into complacency after taking the opening four games against her compatriot, Nadia Petrova, won a tight, edgy contest, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4.

Wiilliams, while admitting that Clijsters was the better player on the night, had the audacity to say that the Belgian won by dragging her down to her level. "She started hitting these really weird shots and short balls, just weird stuff," said the No 8 seed. "Next thing I know, I was playing as bad as she was. She was able to recover. It seemed like I just wasn't. I guess maybe it was a good strategy."

The coaching fraternity would concur with Williams' last point, though mention of coaching recalls the abiding image from the Sharapova-Petrova match of Sharapova's father, Yuri, bawling and gesticulating to his daughter from his seat in the players' box.

He became particularly agitated after his daughter was broken while serving for the match at 5-3. Petrova, however, was unable to push her challenge further, losing her serve while attempting to level at 5-5.