Fri, Oct 17, 2003 - Page 23 News List

Henin-Hardenne nears No. 1 ranking in Zurich

AP , ZURICH, SWITZERLAND

Eleni Daniilidou of Greece plays against Petty Schnyder of Switzerland at the Swisscome Challenge Tennis Tournament in Kloten, Switerland, Tuesday.

PHOTO: EPA

Second-seeded Justine Henin-Hardenne began her bid to take over the world No. 1 ranking Wednesday by beating Anna Pistolesi of Israel 6-1, 7-6 (5) for a place in the quarterfinals of the US$1.3 million Swisscom Challenge.

Henin-Hardenne needs to claim the title if she wants to replace fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters, who has monopolized the top spot for the last 11 weeks, and become No. 1 for the first time of her career.

"It was a good start but I need to focus on my matches, not on what can happen," said Henin-Hardenne, who missed her first opportunity to reach No. 1 last week in Filderstadt when she succumbed to pressure and lost the final to Clijsters.

"I need to forget what's at stake and just focus on winning a maximum number of matches."

In other play, Jelena Dokic of Serbia and Montenegro overcame a first-set loss and a long mental block to beat Alexandra Stevenson of the US 4-6, 7-5, 6-1.

Fourth-seeded Elena Dementieva of Russia committed 13 double faults on the way to being ousted by countrywoman Nadia Petrova 7-6 (3), 6-3.

Henin-Hardenne looked poised to breeze into the quarterfinals, jumping to a 4-0 lead, with Pistolesi holding serve just once before the Belgian swept another two consecutive games to take the set.

But the Israeli was determined not to make it easy for Henin-Hardenne, tenaciously keeping pace in the second set. The Belgian began to struggle in the face of Pistolesi's second wind, committing 29 unforced errors in that set alone.

Pistolesi, suddenly firing remarkably precise and powerful shots, drew first blood, breaking at 5-5.

But the Belgian, unruffled, broke back the very next game on a double fault by Pistolesi, who seemed to be feeling the pressure.

The Israeli held her own in the tiebreak, with Henin-Hardenne unable to get more than a two-point advantage at any time.

But at 5-5, Pistolesi could no longer hold off the Belgian and surrendered the next two points, losing the match on a long ball.

"I know Anna is a real fighter and with her, the match is never over until the final point," Henin-Hardenne said. "I played almost perfect tennis the first set. She adjusted her game in the second and started to play better. And I lost some aggressiveness, especially in my returns."

In the round of eight, Henin-Hardenne is scheduled to face seventh-seeded Vera Zvonareva of Russia, who defeated American qualifier Amy Frazier 6-3, 7-5 to advance.

"She is another tough fighter," said Henin-Hardenne, who acknowledged starting to feel tired after a long season that included some 80 matches.

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