Monday, January 23, 2006

Hingis, Clijsters Advance To Quarterfinal Showdown

The comeback kid Martina Hingis continued her impressive run in Melbourne with a 6-1, 7-6 (8) Round of 16 win over Aussie Samantha Stosur Monday night at Rod Laver Arena.

Having cruised through her first three matches, the former three-time Australian Open champion looked like she would have another routine victory after an easy 23-minute first set against the 21-year-old fan favorite. She used an array of shots from every conceivable angle to keep Stosur off balance.

When Hingis broke early in the second set, she seemed in control. But in an ultracompetitive set that lasted an hour and included several service breaks, Stosur and Hingis slugged it out from the baseline during some lengthy rallies which got the crowd into it. Able to break again and hold for 5-3, Hingis was two points away from victory on Stosur's serve when the powerful Aussie increased the volume by taking the final four points to draw within 4-5.

Having already broken the Swiss Miss three times in the frame, Stosur outslugged Hingis during a baseline rally to level the set five all. But once again, Hingis bounced back with a break to earn another chance to serve it out. In a recurring theme though, Stosur refused to go down without a fight. After saving a match point, she broke Hingis with a forehand return winner on a second serve to force a tiebreaker.

The tiebreak would prove as exciting as the set. After Stosur jumped out to a 5-2 lead with two serves to level the match, Hingis rallied to take the next four points and get a second match point. However, a game Stosur fought it off during an extended 33-stroke rally to extend the tiebreak. Forced to come in, Stosur came up with a gutsy slice backhand approach shot which slid off the baseline forcing a Hingis error. The pro Stosur crowd cheered loudly.

Stosur also denied a third match point. But at 9-8, the fourth match point would finally pay off for Hingis when Stosur netted a forehand, giving Hingis a quarterfinal date with second seeded Belgian Kim Clijsters.

"Sam played an awesome match, she's a real fighter," praised Hingis at the postmatch conference. "She was the last Aussie standing and I'm sorry for that, I look forward to everyone's support in the next round."

In her first ever slam fourth round, Stosur handled herself well. Afterwards, she paid Hingis some worthy compliments.

"Martina is just an unbelievable player. She anticipates really well. She's awesome," Stosur said. "It's just awesome experience playing in front of a crowd like that- it's a feeling I'll never forget."

Before Hingis and Stosur took center stage, '05 U.S. Open champ Clijsters withstood a strong challenge from 15th seeded Italian Francesca Schiavone. In a seesaw battle on the baseline, Clijsters prevailed in straight sets 7-6 (5), 6-4. Despite playing through a hip flexor, she still hasn't dropped a set.

However, the match against Schiavone was far from easy. Trying to serve out the first set, Clijsters was broken by Schiavone to force a first set tiebreak. In it, Schiavone was two points from claiming the set with two serves but felt the pressure by making two unforced errors. A determined Clijsters rallied to claim the tiebreak 7-5, pumping her fist.

After an early break put Clijsters up in the second set, Schiavone broke back to get it on serve. But in the pivotal ninth game with the score even, Clijsters converted her fourth break of the match to setup a chance to serve it out. Despite making 43 unforced errors, she finally put away the fiesty Schiavone to advance.

In other fourth round action, third seeded Frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo easily moved into the quarterfinals with a 6-1, 6-1 pasting of 16th seeded Czech Nicole Vaidisova. She'll next face seventh seeded Swiss Patty Schnyder, who also had no trouble with 12th seeded Russian Anastasia Myskina, prevailing 6-2, 6-1.

Women's quarterfinals begin Tuesday. In a battle of Russians, Maria Sharapova (4) faces Nadia Petrova (6) while top seeded American Lindsay Davenport battles Justine Henin-Hardenne.

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