Paris, May 30 (DPA) Four-time champion Justine Henin made a triumphant return to form as the Belgian beat Russian rival Maria Sharapova 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 Sunday to reach the fourth round of the French Open tennis.
Henin, a former world number one and darling of the Roland Garros crowds, was playing her favourite event for the first time since 2008 when she announced a retirement from the game which only lasted 20 months.
Between them, 12th seed Sharapova, winner of the Strasbourg title last weekend, and Henin share ten Grand Slam titles, with Henin winning seven including her Paris quartet.
‘It’s only a few tournaments I’ve played, I still need some time,’ said Henin. ‘It’s going to be a year of transition. I still think that, even if I had good results from the beginning of the season.
‘I have ambitions to go as far as possible, but I’m also conscious that I’ll have to work hard on my intensity, my concentration, and just to be more consistent all the time,’ she said in the run-up to her next match with Australian Samantha Stosur.
The Belgian now leads the series with Sharapova 7-3 after the LA-based Russian won their last match at the 2008 Australian Open. The contest was interrupted Saturday night by darkness at a set apiece after Henin levelled.
Upon Sunday’s return, Sharapova looked to have her winning chances, earning a 2-0 in the final set lead but losing it. Henin moved out to 4-2, with a double-fault handing a game back to Sharapova at 4-3.
But the Russian had her own problems in windy and chilly conditions: she saved a break point in the eighth game before being caught out by a backhand pass.
A game later, Henin raced to three match points, double-faulting on the first before clinching her fist in victory as Sharapova nailed a sharply angled backhand return wide over the sideline.
‘I know the things that hurt me a little bit today,’ said Sharapova. ‘I just really want to go out on that court and just work on them a little bit more, because I know that they will help me a little bit more in the future.’
‘I definitely played some good tennis, but it wasn’t enough to win the match. At the end of the day, no matter how good or bad you play, you know, she’s the one with the W.’
Sharapova said that conditions the day before when the match started were dire.
‘Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, it got worse.’
‘The ball is heavy, there’s tons of clay on the court, it’s raining. It’s not just drizzling – it’s pouring for about 10 minutes. That doesn’t really help matters for the rest of the match,’ Sharapova said.
‘Then it gets dark.’
Henin is confidently looking ahead. ‘I’m in the round of 16, so it means there are 15 other girls who can make it till the end.’
‘In tennis, everything can change very quickly. I want to go as far as I can, otherwise I wouldn’t be here. I have a great motivation.’
In the fourth round, 2004 finalist Elena Dementieva reached the last eight as she defeated South African Chanelle Scheepers 6-1, 6-3. Italy’s Francesca Schiavone beat Russian Maria Kirilenko 6-4, 6-4.