Henin and Sharapova face off


PARIS, May 29 – Defending champion Svetlana Kuznetsova's luck finally ran out at the French Open on Friday, as superstars Justine Henin and Maria Sharapova set up a headline-grabbing third-round clash.Sixth seed Kuznetsova lost 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 to 30th-seeded Russian compatriot Maria Kirilenko in the third round, having already survived four match points in her second-round win over Germany’s Andrea Petkovic.

"I didn’t come here with my best game, but I gave my all and I fought all I could," said a downbeat Kuznetsova.

"You cannot play great all the time. It’s up and downs. I haven’t been playing well this claycourt season or this season. It happens and I’ll be back. It’s just a matter of time."

Kirilenko, who also beat Kuznetsova on the Rome clay earlier this month, spurned two match points before converting the third and will meet 17th seed Francesca Schiavone of Italy for a last-eight berth.

"I’m happy. I got to the quarter-finals at the Australian Open for the first time, I’d never passed the second round here and now I’m in the fourth round," said 23-year-old Kirilenko.

Four-time champion Henin and former world number one Sharapova will contest a place in the last 16 on Saturday after comfortably winning second-round matches that had been held over because of rain on Thursday.

Henin, the 22nd seed, finished off a straightforward 6-3, 6-3 defeat of Czech Klara Zakopalova, with 12th seed Sharapova completing a victory over Henin’s Belgian countrywoman Kirsten Flipkens by the same score.

"Playing again in front of the Paris crowd and all the Belgian supporters warms my heart," said Henin, who returned to the sport earlier this year after retiring in 2008 and whose last visit to Roland Garros in 2007 saw her claim her fourth title.

"I’ve missed it and the sensations are coming back bit by bit."

Sharapova now bars Henin’s route to a fifth Roland Garros crown and the Russian said she was excited at the prospect of renewing acquaintances.

"I’m looking forward to it," said Sharapova, who trails Henin 6-3 in head-to-head career matches.

"We’ve had some great matches in the past. We’ve had some battles and I’ve had some tough losses and some great wins, so I look forward to this one."

In third-round matches, Russian fifth seed Elena Dementieva, a losing finalist here in 2004, dug deep to grind out a gruelling 6-7 (2/7), 6-3, 6-4 win over Canada’s Aleksandra Wozniak.

Dementieva sank to her knees in relief at the end of the 2hr 43min match and will now tackle South African qualifier Chanelle Scheepers, who is the first woman from her country to reach the last 16 here since Amanda Coetzer in 1997.

Third seed Caroline Wozniacki also produced a determined performance to reach the fourth round after winning 6-3, 6-4 against Romanian 31st seed Alexandra Dulgheru, who won in Warsaw last week.

The 19-year-old Dane fought back from 3-1 down in the first set and 4-1 down in the second to set up a last-16 clash with Italian 14th seed Flavia Pennetta.

With unbroken sunshine replacing the rain and gloom of the previous two days, second seed Venus Williams was the first woman to reach the last 16 following a 6-3, 6-4 defeat of Slovakian 26th seed Dominika Cibulkova.

The American will face either rising French star Aravane Rezai, the 15th seed, or Russian 19th seed Nadia Petrova for a quarter-final berth, after their match was suspended because of fading light at 7-7 in the last set.

"Right now I’ve been doing pretty well; moving well, serving well and playing the closer points well, so that feels good," said Williams.

"Also I’ve been fortunate enough not to get caught up in the rain. I don’t really know how that happened."

Top seed Serena Williams demolished German world number 77 Julia Goerges 6-1, 6-1 in just 55 minutes and will face Russian 29th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in round three.

Asked what she could possibly learn from such a comfortable win, Serena replied: "I can learn a lot, like ‘What am I doing today? Why aren’t all my matches like this and what can I do to make them like that?’

"Those are the questions I ask myself and that I have to try to answer."