Safarova Upsets Kuz; Henin, Mauresmo Advance

Posted on February 9, 2007

PARIS, France - Lucie Safarova had an incredible start to 2007 in Australia, and she doesn't seem to be slowing down as the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour heads to Europe. The big-hitting Czech youngster notched her third Top 10 win of the season on Friday, taking out Svetlana Kuznetsova in straight sets to reach the Open Gaz de France semifinals.

The two big-hitters were fairly equal through the bulk of the match but it was on important points where Safarova shone; she saved all four of the break points against her, and converted on three of her six opportunities. She clinched the win on one of those breaks.

"It was a very good match," said Safarova, who was taking on Kuznetsova for the first time. "I can feel my play getting much better. It's because I'm getting more and more confidence after every match. I like playing here; I like this surface. When I go out there I'm trying to be aggressive and get on top of every ball."

Safarova, who turned 20 last Sunday, has had one of the most phenomenal starts to the year. She caused a stir at the Australian Open, ousting defending champion (and world No.3) Amélie Mauresmo en route to her first major quarterfinal; and she hasn't been a disappointment in her follow-up event this week with two more Top 10 wins over Nicole Vaidisova and now Kuznetsova. Her only early round loss so far this year was a second round defeat at Hobart - in a third set tie-break - to Serena Williams.

"I worked very hard in the off-season," added Safarova, whose first career Top 10 win also came down under just over a year ago over Patty Schnyder, at Gold Coast. "I got a new conditioning coach and I think that really helped me."

Next for Safarova will be her biggest test yet - a semifinal encounter against top seed Justine Henin. The world's No.2 player survived a tough test against French teen Tatiana Golovin, 62 36 63. Golovin played her way back into the match after the first set with some aggressive baseline play but Henin retaliated by rushing the net in the decider, closing it out comfortably in just under two hours.

Henin and Safarova will be playing for the first time.

Mauresmo tries to regain control over Petrova head-to-head

By contrast, two players who are familiar with each other's games will do battle in the other semifinal, as No.2 seed Mauresmo faces No.4 seed Nadia Petrova. Both had difficult opponents to overcome in Friday's quarters but won in two sets.

Mauresmo battled for two hours to get past No.8 seed Anna Chakvetadze, 76(5) 75. It was a struggle from start to finish; she broke for a 5-3 first set lead, but watched as the in-form teenager, who had won 20 of 22 matches going in, broke back and took that set to a tie-break. The players were also neck-and-neck in the second set, with the Frenchwoman finally securing a break in the penultimate game before serving it out. She is now 2-0 lifetime against the Russian.

Petrova had a less complicated time against another young Russian, former Open Gaz de France champion and No.7 seed Dinara Safina, prevailing 63 62.

Mauresmo and Petrova have played eight times. Mauresmo leads the series 5-3, but actually began 4-1; Petrova has won two of their last three encounters, including straight set wins in 2006 at Doha (in the final) and at the year-ending Sony Ericsson Championships (in the round robin portion). Incidentally, their first ever match came at this event (and in this round) two years ago, with the Frenchwoman winning, 75 63. (WTA)