For Kim Clijsters, it was one injury too many. For Amelie Mauresmo, it meant a long-awaited second chance at a Grand Slam title.
Second-seeded Clijsters, who will rise to No. 1 when the new rankings come out next week, sprained her ankle in the third set of her semifinal match yesterday against third-seeded Mauresmo, bringing an abrupt end to a match that looked to be heading to a tense conclusion.
Mauresmo was leading 5-7, 6-2, 3-2 and 15-love when Clijsters hobbled to the net and withdrew, ending the prospect of an all-Belgian final with eighth-seeded Justine Henin-Hardenne.
Henin-Hardenne, seeking a fifth Grand Slam singles title, earlier extended her Melbourne Park winning streak to 13 matches by ousting No. 4 Maria Sharapova of Russia 4-6, 6-1, 6-4.
"It's a shame it had to happen," Clijsters said before heading to a hospital for medical scans. "I think it was going to be a close one. Whenever I have a problem, I'm not going to quit for nothing."
But this time the pain was way too great for Clijsters, already suffering coming into the match. Combined with hip and back pain, she had trouble with her left hamstring from compensating for the ailments.
It looked like she might win in straight sets as Mauresmo, known for making mistakes when things get tight, showed her nerves again. Serving at 5-6, she fended off four set points before double-faulting on the fifth to hand Clijsters the first set.
As the match wore on, Clijsters looked increasingly stiff, but had started hitting the ball better again in the third set.
After breaking Mauresmo to get back on serve and going up 40-0 in the fifth game, Clijsters let Mauresmo back in with two unforced errors and a double-fault.
Facing a breakpoint, Clijsters stumbled and fell when Mauresmo hit a forehand behind her. Clijsters had her ankle heavily taped in the changeover and only played one more shot before retiring.
With the Rod Laver Arena roof closed due to a return of Melbourne's recent heat wave, every point between Henin-Hardenne and Sharapova was a struggle.
Sharapova looked toward her father and coach, Yuri Sharapov, after nearly every point, shouting to him after Henin-Hardenne broke her to go ahead 4-2 in the last set.
The usually confident Sharapova looked tight and unsettled, whacking the ball into the net after mistakes and kicking it once.
"I'll be seeing headlines: Maria can't get past the semis; Maria can't finish it in the third set," Sharapova said. But, "I think it was a good match. I didn't come in the best prepared ... without many matches, to be able to play the quality of tennis I was able to play today is a big plus."
On the men's side, Cypriot Marcus Baghdatis capped an extraordinary Australian Open by reaching his first Grand Slam final with an stirring five-set fightback victory over Argentina's David Nalbandian yesterday.
The 54th-rated Baghdatis added fourth-seeded Nalbandian to his list of seeded victims at the year's first slam with a 3-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 win in 3hr 27min to reach Sunday's final.
Baghdatis will now face either world number one Roger Federer or German 21st seed Nicolas Kiefer in the final of the year's first major tournament.