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It was billed as a match worthy of a semi-final, the promoters were oh so wrong. The match never even went to a third set, but if you ask any of the 15,000 fans packed into Rod Laver Arena, they may not even have noticed. It lasted a record 2 hours and 50 minutes, two set matches don't go that long. The ladies played 209 points in 24 games, that means on an average every game went to deuce. It had 34 break points created, an average of almost 3 every 2 games. It witnessed 66 un-returnable shots and that's just the maths of it.
WhenÂ Justine Henin finally lifted her arms in triumph you were compelled to raise yours too. Not to salute one, but two women who made tennis a very special sport tonight, carrying it to levels very rarely witnessed of late. Henin, a seven time Grand Slam champion and a winner here in Melbourne Park in 2004, was in just her second tournament after a self-imposed 20 month hiatus. At the other end of the court stood the reigning Olympic champion and no.5 seedÂ Elena Dementieva. Dementieva incidentally was a winner at Sydney last week where she had beaten both the current world no.1 Serena Williams and no.2 Dinara Safina without even batting an eyelid. This match should never have really happened in the second round, but the fans who bought their tickets to be in the Arena today witnessed one of the greatest contests of all time.
The second game was an early indication of what lay ahead as Henin held serve to get on the scoreboard after a marathon game with multiple deuces. It was just the beginning. The first break of serve followed in the third game, Henin needing a third break point to effect it. Three unforced errors from Henin gifted the break straight back. Two easy holds later the women were at it again, Henin this time breaking to love and Dementieva breaking straight back again taking three opportunities to level for 4-4. A rare easy hold later Dementieva found herself with two set points on the Henin serve. The 27-year old Belgian produced winners to fend both of them off. Henin then clawed her way back from 40-15 down to break the Russian's serve and despite Dementieva saving two set points on Henin's serve, the former world no.1 served out the opening setÂ 7-5 in 83 minutes. That's how long most second round matches last in their entirety.
The second set started almost as crazily as the first. Dementieva raced to 40-15 in the first game, but her hopes of an easy hold were unfounded. Henin levelled to deuce and then had three chances to break the Russian's serve, only to be thwarted by a more adventurous Dementieva who showed that her time at the Hopman Cup earlier this month also improved her volleying skills. Dementieva then proceeded to break for a 2-0 lead, the first sign of daylight that the match has seen so far. It was shortlived though as the old Bollettieri saying goes, "It's not a break till you've held your own serve," and Henin broke back and held serve to level for 2-2. Two deuce induced games later Dementieva was again up 4-2. A break and a hold later we were once again locked at 4-4. Henin then made it three games in a row to break for 5-4 and at 40-30 in the next game had her first glimpse of round 3.
Dementieva, however, was in no mood to call it a night. She saw the match-point off and hit a backhand winner to bring the match back on an even keel. Henin broke again for 6-5, Dementieva followed for 6-6, and into the lottery of a tiebreak we went. The breaker too was neck and neck. Dementieva had a set point at 6-5, Henin produced a fantastic volley to see it off. Moments later she hit another to seal a monumental 7-5, 7-6 (8-6) win. Henin was back, and playing at a level perhaps even she couldn't believe. Dementieva was obviously disappointed, but played her part in a true modern day epic.
Yes, there were other matches today too! Dinara Safina, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Kim Clijsters and Jelena Jankovic all booking their place in the third round. None of them were severely tested, coasting through in far less torturous straight sets. The draw did lose a few other seeds with Zheng Jie of China upsettingÂ MarÃƒÆ’Ã‚Âa JosÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â© MartÃƒÆ’Ã‚Ânez SÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¡nchez 2-6, 6-2, 6-3 and qualifier Angelique Kerber making short work of the no.26 seed Aravane Rezai 6-2, 6-3. Perhaps a slight-upset along the lines of Henin's win, was world no.16 Yanina Wickmayer, who needed to come through the qualifiers here in Australian after her dope no-show ban was overturned, beat the no.12 seedÂ Flavia Pennetta 7-6 (2), 6-1.
There were also some first round matches left over from earlier in the week with Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka the two most notable names progressing to round 2. Joining them there were 9th seedÂ Vera Zvonareva, 16th seed Li Na and the no.22 seed Daniela Hantuchova. The latter the only one of the above stretched to three sets.
Day 4 promises to be fairly exciting, and though it will be hard for any match perhaps even over the next two weeks to match up in terms of skill and excitement to the one witnessed today, the Williams sisters, Sam Stosur and Ana Ivanovic will certainly bring their own brand of tennis to the fore.
Wednesday Women's Scores:
Singles - Second Round
(2) Dinara Safina (RUS) d. Barbora Zahlavova Strycova (CZE) 63 64
(3) Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS) d. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) 62 62
(WC) Justine Henin (BEL) d. (5) Elena Dementieva (RUS) 75 76(6)
(8) Jelena Jankovic (SRB) d. Katie O'Brien (GBR) 62 62
(11) Marion Bartoli (FRA) d. Sandra Zahlavova (CZE) 64 64
(Q) Yanina Wickmayer (BEL) d. (12) Flavia Pennetta (ITA) 76(2) 61
(15) Kim Clijsters (BEL) d. Tamarine Tanasugarn (THA) 63 63
(19) Nadia Petrova (RUS) d. Kaia Kanepi (EST) 64 64
Zheng Jie (CHN) d. (24) MarÃƒÆ’Ã‚Âa JosÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â© MartÃƒÆ’Ã‚Ânez SÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¡nchez (ESP) 26 62 63
(Q) Angelique Kerber (GER) d. (26) Aravane Rezai (FRA) 62 63
(27) Alisa Kleybanova (RUS) d. Sorana Cirstea (ROU) 64 63
Elena Baltacha (GBR) d. (30) Kateryna Bondarenko (UKR) 62 75
(31) Alona Bondarenko (UKR) d. Polona Hercog (SLO) 64 75
Singles - First Round
(4) Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) d. Aleksandra Wozniak (CAN) 64 62
(7) Victoria Azarenka (BLR) d. (WC) StÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â©phanie Cohen-Aloro (FRA) 62 60
(9) Vera Zvonareva (RUS) d. Kristina Kucova (SVK) 62 60
(16) Li Na (CHN) d. Marina Erakovic (NZL) 62 60
(22) Daniela Hantuchova (SVK) d. Viktoriya Kutuzova (UKR) 36 61 75
Tathiana Garbin (ITA) d. (28) Elena Vesnina (RUS) 76(5) 64
(29) Shahar Peer (ISR) d. Lucie Hradecka (CZE) 67(5) 62 61
File Photograph: Porsche Tennis Grand Prix
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