Paris: Samantha Stosur of Australia stunned four-times former winner Justine Henin at the French Open on Monday to wreck hopes of a dream quarter-final between the Belgian and top seed Serena Williams.
It was the first time that Henin had lost since the second round in 2004, a 24-match unbeaten run that was the third best on record and it put a spoke in the comeback trail she has been blazing since the start of the year.
It was also the second straight year that the fast-rising Gold Coast resident Stosur has reached the last eight in Paris, having lost in last year’s semis to eventual winner Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia.
“Going into a quarterfinal, I couldn’t probably hope to be in a better position, I don’t think,” she said.
“Obviously beating Justine is going to give me lots and lots of confidence for the next match.”
In sharp contrast to the Henin-Stosur thriller, which the Australian won 2-6, 6-1, 6-4, Williams breezed past Shahar Peer of Israel 6-2, 6-2.
The American insisted she was not shocked by Henin’s dismissal.
“She is no pushover,” she said of Stosur. “She has beaten me before and I shall have to play my best game,” she said.
“You can never underestimate anyone and Sam is a wonderful claycourt player.
“She has a good chance to go all the way. She is fast, she is strong and she has a great serve. She plays a real allround game.”
Henin had won 24 straight matches at Roland Garros, including three titles, since going down to Italy’s Tathiana Garbin in the 2004 second round when she was the defending champion.
She missed the 2008 and 2009 tournaments after retiring in May 2008 claiming that she had lost all motivation and wanted a change of lifestyle, but returned to action at the start of the year in Australia.
Henin quickly jumped out into a 2-0 lead and a second break of serve in the seventh game allowed her to pocket the opener 6-2 in just 32 minutes.
But just when it looked like the Belgian was heading for a straightforward win Stosur, who is ranked a career-best seventh in the world, upped her game.
She turned on the power with her serve to edge ahead and then stunned Henin with an array of attacking shots that left the Belgian shaking her head in frustration.
A further break of serve put Stosur 5-1 up and she staved off two break points on her own engagement to take the set 6-1.
At this stage the match was resembling the only previous encounter between the two - the final of the Stuttgart claycourt tournament earlier this month - which Henin won 6-4, 2-6, 6-1.
Stosur stuck with her gameplan to go for her shots and attack the net at every opportunity in the decider, with Henin looking to lure her into a battle of baseliners.
Games went with serve until 2-2 when an increasingly uncomfortable-looking Henin failed to convert two points for a 3-2 lead and then double-faulted to hand the break to the Australian.
Stosur had the initiative with her own usually reliable serve to follow, but she promptly played a poor game allowing Henin to claw her way back into the match at 3-3.
She was handed a second chance though three games later when Henin dished up three unforced errors and a double fault allowing the Australian to take a 5-4 lead.
This time she gleefully accepted it, finishing off the Belgian on her second match point.
Henin said that she had felt more nervous and uncomfortable on court than usual having played for five straight days because of a succession of rain delays.
“It’s not easy to play so many days in a row.” she said. “Maybe a day off would have been welcome.”
“I wanted the adventure to continue but I wasn’t at my best today and she took her chances. It’s difficult when you return to this level.”
The only trouble Williams had against Peer came right at the start when she dropped the first seven points of the match as she struggled to get to grips with the cold, blustery conditions out on the Philippe Chatrier centre-court.
But she promptly won the next nine as she moved up the gears and then broke Peer for a second time to take a 4-2 lead.
From there she coasted through, her serve and ground strokes far too heavy and penetrating for the Israeli.
The win kept alive the American’s hopes of winning the French Open for just the second time, eight years after her first triumph, and also kept her on track for the fabled calender year Grand Slam having won the Australian Open title in January.
Joining Stosur and Williams in the last eight in the top half of the draw was dangerous Serbian fourth seed Jelena Jankovic who outplayed Daniela Hantchova of Slovakia 6-4, 6-2.
She will play the winner of the match between Australian Jarmila Groth and Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan.