Henin-Hardenne Nears Grand Slam; Sharapova Out; Nadal to Semis at Wimbledon

Justine Henin-Hardenne is one victory from a career Grand Slam, and Maria Sharapova is gone from Wimbledon.

Henin-Hardenne defeated Kim Clijsters 6-4, 7-6 (4) Thursday to reach the final and close in on the one major title missing from her collection.

The third-seeded Henin-Hardenne will face No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo, who squandered a 3-1, love-40 lead against serve in the second set before putting away Sharapova 6-3, 3-6, 6-2.

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Saturday's championship will be a rematch of this year's Australian Open final in which Henin-Hardenne quit because of stomach pain while trailing 6-1, 2-0, handing the Frenchwoman her first Grand Slam title.

French Open champion Rafael Nadal advanced to the men's semifinals by beating Finland's Jarkko Nieminen 6-3, 6-4, 6-4. Their quarterfinal was postponed Wednesday after Jonas Bjorkman's five-set victory over Radek Stepanek took 6 1/2 hours, including two rain delays totaling 2 1/2 hours.

Mauresmo, who had lost in the semifinals in her last three appearances at Wimbledon, looked like she might throw away her breakthrough chance against the 19-year-old Russian.

After dominating the first set with a performance that included just one unforced error (a double fault), Mauresmo held three break points with a chance to go up 4-1 in the second. She has a reputation for getting tight and, sure enough, she faltered. The fourth-seeded Mauresmo reeled off five straight games to take the set.

But it was Mauresmo who came out stronger in the final set, racing out to a 4-0 lead. Sharapova won the next two games and had a break point for 4-3, but Mauresmo saved it with a 112 mph (180 kph) ace. She broke in the next game to end the 2 hour, 13-minute match.

After Sharapova sailed a forehand long for her 40th unforced error, Mauresmo ran across the grass and leaped high in the air in celebration.

"It was so tight in the second set, just thinking about maybe getting to the final finally on the fourth try," she said. "I was relieved at the end because I was able to come back in the third set stronger and change the momentum that was in her favor at the end of the second set. I'm very happy."

Mauresmo has lost nine of her career matches against Henin-Hardenne.

"I'm expecting a tough one," she said. "She's playing some great tennis, very aggressive. She's a tough player. I finally get the chance to play for the trophy. I will take my chances, and we'll see how it goes."

Henin-Hardenne reached the Wimbledon final in 2001, losing to Venus Williams. Since then, she has won three French Opens and one U.S. Open and Australian Open. By taking Wimbledon, she would become only the 10th woman to win all four Grand Slams.

"I don't have anything to prove to anyone anymore," Henin-Hardenne said. "I think I proved enough on the tennis court the fighter I am, how much I can compete. There's always a lot of determination. It's just about myself, and I hope I can win this title."

Thursday's match was the 20th career tour-level meeting between Henin-Hardenne and Clijsters and seventh at a Grand Sam, but their first at Wimbledon.

The two Belgians, whose relationship has often been frosty, shook hands at the net. But they did not embrace or kiss on the cheeks as is common in women's tennis.

Henin-Hardenne evened the series at 10-10, winning for the third time in a month after victories in the French Open quarters and the Eastbourne grass-court event.

"For the last few matches that I played, this has been the best one I played against her," Clijsters said. "I'm happy with that."

Henin-Hardenne has won 17 straight matches, including 13 consecutive Grand Slam matches without dropping a set. She can become the first player in the Open era to win the French Open and Wimbledon back-to-back without losing a set.

"Today I played my best tennis on important points when I had to," she said.

Nadal will face Marcos Baghdatis, who upset 2002 champion Lleyton Hewitt 6-1, 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-2 on Wednesday.

The other men's semifinal will pit Bjorkman against three-time defending champion Roger Federer, who defeated Mario Ancic 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 to extend his grass-court winning streak to 46 matches and reach his ninth consecutive Grand Slam semi.

The 20-year-old Nadal is the seventh youngest Wimbledon semifinalist and first Spaniard to get this far since Manuel Orantes in 1972. He's challenging to become the first player to win the French Open and Wimbledon in the same year since Bjorn Borg in 1980.

Many people didn't think Nadal, winner of a record 60 straight clay-court matches, could make a title run on grass. But he's won 12 sets in a row and hasn't been broken since the second round.

"It is a surprise to be in the semifinals," Nadal said. "It is an unbelievable tournament for me."

Henin-Hardenne beat Clijsters for the fourth straight time at a Grand Slam tournament in a match that swung in momentum during both sets. She raised her game when needed and played a more varied, all-court game than Clijsters, taking 17 of 21 points at the net.

Henin-Hardenne took the lead at 3-2 in the tiebreaker and went on to close the 90-minute match with a crosscourt passing shot off her one-handed backhand.

"I love this kind of situation," Henin-Hardenne said, referring to the tiebreaker. "I have the feeling that is why I am playing tennis. There is a lot of pressure in these moments."