By Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd
Justine Henin was in formidable form as she brushed aside French ace Marion Bartoli in a one-sided semi-final 6-1 6-3. The 25-year-old Belgian had the contest wrapped up after just 10 minutes with a 3-0 lead on Centre Court.
Bartoli, who reeled off 11 successive games to humiliate Russian Elena Dementieva in the previous day’s quarter-final, made a dreadful start but held her service game with few problems to bounce back to 3-1 deficit.
Hard-hitting Henin had enjoyed brief appearances on Centre Court this week and with a technically brilliant game was in control against the rising star.
Two breaks of serve left Henin serving for the set at 5-1 after just 20 minutes, but she made heavy weather of it before taking an emphatic lead. Bartoli then replied with a swift game to love to open the second set, much to the relief of the supportive crowd.
Games went with serve for the first six games before Henin turned on the style to break Bartoli and move into a comfortable 4-3 lead. It was just a question of how long it would take the gutsy Belgian to dismantle the nervy Bartoli.
And within an hour, Henin booked her place in the final with a ruthless victory 6-1 6-3.
Afterwards, Henin admitted: “I made a good start in the first set then lost intensity for a few games, but managed to come back strongly. It has been a prefect preparation for Wimbledon so far.
Petrova packs up
Nadia Petrova shocked a packed Centre Court crowd when she retired with a back injury. Polish-based Petrova called time after narrowly losing the first set 6-4 to French ace Amelie Mauresmo, who was always in control despite the closeness of the first set on paper.
The furious Russian said that was determined to be fit for Wimbledon but blamed the windy conditions, not unusual in Eastbourne, for problems with her serve.
Mauresmo said: “C’est la vie! I knew she had problems and was having physio. I’m very pleased to be in my first Eastbourne final.”
When asked about the odds on her winning Wimbledon again, Mauresmo quipped: ” I’m 8-1 this year but prefer longer odds. Last year I was 12-1, which was good for me!”
Late, late show seals success
Amelie Mauresmo was out-of-sorts compared to the previous match, yet came back from a second set scare to score a sensational straight sets win 6-3 6-4.
The reigning Wimbledon champion looked emphatic on her first return to grass since winning the 2006 Championships, but it proved to be a very different story against rising star Sharah Peer.
The 20-year-old Israeli had got the measure of her illustrious opponent early on and broke Mauresmo’s service game, the French ace having double defaulted when leading 40-30. Remarkably, this was the first time that the no2 seed had lost her own serve at the 2007 Eastbourne tournament.
But Peer wasn’t able to capitalise on this gifted game, and was immediately broken back by the 27-year-old to level matters.
Mauresmo then delivered four aces to take the lead, then the 20-year-old made it 2-2. Mauresmo, who was making uncharacteristic basic mistakes, held her service game with an ace to confirm her superiority and found her rhythm in the next game to take a two game lead.
Eager to take the set, there was no messing around as Mauresmo held her serve to love for a swift 6-3 opening set.
Although Peer had been touted as a future Wimbledon champion, there was no mistaking the difference in quality between the two stars. Although world no16 Peer hit a purple patch with some brilliant passing shots against her approaching opponent, the first four games went with serve.
Peer continued to tempt Mauresmo into the net, and the French ace continued to fall into the trap set with some poor unforced areas showing how rusty she really is. Peer outfoxed Mauresmo on her own serve, giving the crowd great delight at another three-set encounter on the cards.
The world no4 and no2 seed was clearly unhappy at being humiliated, and aware of such a poor record at Eastbourne decided to step up a gear. With a string of aces and deep, penetrative backhands, Mauresmo showed exactly why she will again be a force to be reckoned with at 2007 Wimbledon.
Four successive games were neatly ground out to leave Peer to concentrate on her exploits at SW19, while Mauresmo continues to build up her exceptional skills before defending the Championships.
In contrast, Peer was later seen jogging around the Saffrons listening to her iPod, but the sweet smell of success was music to Mauresmo’s ears.
The great escape
Nadia Petrova looked down and out as she was about to suffer a shock exit at the hands of no9 seed Sybille Bammer. But Petrova pounded the court and bravely swing at everything to pinch a closely-fought three set success in three hours.
The Centre Court crowd were obviously hoping for a closer match than the one-sided Henin victory, and could not have asked for such an exciting contest in contrast. Even the sets lasted exactly an hour each, and it was difficult to pick a winner between these two determined aces.
Russian Petrova and the 27-year-old mother of one traded service games for the opening set, which included a string of uncomfortable line calls for anxious Petrova.
The inevitable tiebreak ensued, which also went to 6-6 until Bammer’s power game got the better of the no3 seed to claim a 8-6 triumph and tip the result in favour of the brightly clothed – tight-fitting bubblegum pink-coloured top – Austrian star.
Bammer then breezed into a 3-1 second set lead. But as soon as she broke serve she lost concentration and immediately lost her serve. So 24-year-old Petrova bounced back to level matters at 3-3.
With both players equally matched, and the fans on the edge of their seat, games continued to go with service to 5-5.
Petrova, aided by signals and support from her coach, then broke the Austrian’s serve to love and served out the set to level matters.
With two injury timeouts for the disillusioned-looking Petrova, firstly for pain in her right shoulder and then for leg cramps, it was an astonishing start to the final set as she twice broke serve to race into a terrific 5-1 lead.
Then it was a question of when, rather than if, Petrova would finish off her gutsy opponent.
But Bammer, no fool on the circuit and involved in many lengthy matches this week, was not going to simply roll over and die. She launched forward at the Russian to bravely battle back to 5-4, leaving the nervous-looking Petrova to serve for victory.
The Russian, still dogged by dodgy line calls, reeled off the first three points to set up match points but required a second match point to dispose of brave Bammer.
Henin’s in a hurry
Justine Henin looked as though she was in no mood to be messed about with as she pulled out all the stops and big shots to register an emphatic 6-2 6-2 win over teenager Nicole Vaidisova in 57 minutes.
The world no1 had struggled in front of the Devonshire Centre Court crowd the previous day, but proved that was just a blip by dismantling the Czech ace in under an hour.
On paper it looked to be an intriguing contest for the top seed defending her Eastbourne crown, but sadly it proved to be more like a mismatch early on when the 25-year-old raced into an unassailable 5-0 lead.
Elegant leggy blonde Vaidisova struggled at last year’s event, bowing out at the first hurdle, but the world no14 has grown in stature, world ranking and height since last summer. She used her height to great advantage, speeding around the court but was despondent after the early setback of losing her serve twice in succession.
When she finally won a game, on her serve, the support that the crowd bestowed on the talented 18-year-old lifted her game so much that she added to her tally by surprisingly breaking the Belgian’s serve.
Henin, clearly unhappy to be outclassed on her own serve, was not in such a generous mood after the appreciative crowd backed the teenager. So Henin immediately broke back serve to claim the opening set 6-2.
The second set was a closer fought encounter, the first five games went with serve and an ace thrown in for good measure by each competitor.
Vaidisova, who is on the verge of a place in the world’s top 10 world and is likely to have reached such dizzy heights had she not missed the Australian season for personal reasons, lost belief in her game.
It was a case of experience outlasting and unnerving the inexperienced, with Henin twice breaking the no5 seed to claim a 6-2 second set success.
Vaidisova is certainly a player for the future. But Henin’s season this year has seen her in scintillating form, having lost just three matches all year.
Whether she will maintain her Eastbourne crowd look likely to hinge on the up-and-down performance of current Wimbledon champion Amelie Mauresmo.
Bartoli has a real blast
Marion Bartoli reeled off 11 successive games after initially losing her serve, to oust out-of-sorts Elena Dementieva on a packed Court No1.
The 22-year-old French ace got off to a terrific start by breaking the service game of the experienced Russian beauty.
But the world no20 lost her own service before annihilating Dementieva, who had made a disappointing debut at Devonshire Park with a narrow win over new British no1 Katie O’Brien the previous day.
Bartoli’s hard-hitting game and neat all-court play was more than a match for Dementieva, who has been in the world’s top 10 for the past four years and now lies at no12.
Everything that the French ace hit proved too hot to handle for Dementieva. And after an embarrassing 6-1 opening set, there was nowhere to hide for the Russian. The 25-year-old just seemed to falter in the heat and withered 6-0.
Bartoli should really test the mettle of Henin, who has blown hot and cold in her two outings here. Whereas the charming Dementieva will have to greatly improve her grass game next week if she is to survive a tricky first week in SW19.