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U.S. OPEN Sharapova overcomes Mauresmo, Slam jinx



Published: Sat, September 9, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Final will see the Russian facing off with Belgium's Justine Henin-Hardenne, who is ranked No. 2.

NEW YORK (AP) -- Maria Sharapova never doubted herself for a moment.

Not in the two-plus years since her breakthrough Wimbledon title. Not after going 0-5 in subsequent Grand Slam semifinals. And certainly not after being broken to lose the second set Friday at the U.S. Open against No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo.

"I just thought to myself, 'It's not over until it's over,' " Sharapova said. "I was still playing good tennis, and I knew that I could win it."

She did just that, beating Mauresmo 6-0, 4-6, 6-0 to set up a U.S. Open final against No. 2 Justine Henin-Hardenne, who took the last 10 games for a 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 victory over a collapsing Jelena Jankovic.

"I came back from nowhere today," Henin-Hardenne said. "I feel lucky to be in the final."

Ending records

So might Sharapova, who entered the day 0-3 against Mauresmo and with that growing Slam semifinal jinx. But the Florida-based Russian set aside her mediocre middle set and put together a rare double shutout: It was the first time in the Open era, which began in 1968, that a female semifinalist here lost two sets at love.

While Mauresmo's bid to win a third major championship this year ended, Roger Federer will try to move closer to his own trio of 2006 Slam titles when he faces No. 7 Nikolay Davydenko in one men's semifinal this afternoon. Andy Roddick, the 2003 Open champion, meets unseeded Mikhail Youzhny in the other.

Tonight, Sharapova will try to overcome a 1-4 head-to-head mark against Henin-Hardenne.

"I had a terrible record against Amelie, and that ended today," Sharapova said. "I have a terrible record against Justine, so I hope that's a good luck charm at the Open."

Trademark grunt

Punctuating nearly every powerful stroke with high-pitched shouts -- her "Aaah! or "Whoo!" so loud at times that spectators snickered -- Sharapova dictated the pace from the baseline and kept Mauresmo away from the net by whipping passing shots at will.

There were moments, such as the start of the third set, that Sharapova would suddenly go silent, swallowing her grunts. And then, flipping the switch, the noise returned, louder than ever. After the match, Sharapova wore a gold-flecked T-shirt with the words: "I feel pretty when I grunt."

Still, unlike Sharapova's quarterfinal foe, Tatiana Golovin, who complained to the chair umpire about the stroke-accompanying screams, Mauresmo said she wasn't fazed.

"You hear it much more when you watch the match than when you play against her," Mauresmo said. "I mean, I just totally don't pay attention to that."

She gave credit to Sharapova for doing a better job of handling the wind that made it tougher to hit deep shots. As for what went wrong on her end, Mauresmo was vague.

"It's a little bit of everything. The focus. ... Maybe a little bit of fatigue, also," she said.

Mauresmo won the Australian Open and Wimbledon this year, but the sorts of nerves that plagued her earlier in her career resurfaced Friday. The Frenchwoman finished with 38 unforced errors and only 10 winners, half as many as Sharapova.

"That," Mauresmo said, "made the difference."

Lost control

Jankovic was a point from taking a 5-2 lead in the second set -- in other words, she was five points from victory -- when she completely fell apart after a long argument with chair umpire Enric Molina.

"I had the match. I thought that in the first set I was the better player -- way better," said Jankovic, who was in her first Slam semifinal. "I was controlling all the points, was on the top of my game. She didn't know what to do. That's how I felt: I was dominating."

That she was, even taking time to enjoy the moment, smiling as she glanced at the overhead video boards to watch replays of winning shots. Henin-Hardenne, meanwhile, was double-faulting 12 times through the first two sets, and clutching her back between points. She stopped her quarterfinal victory against Lindsay Davenport for a massage from a trainer -- but Jankovic wondered aloud how badly the Belgian really felt.

"I was looking at her, and she was, 'Oh, I have pain in my back,' or whatever she was doing. That's when she was losing," Jankovic said. "Then, when she was winning, all of a sudden she's hitting the biggest serves ever and all that. I'm like, 'Now your back doesn't hurt?"'

Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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