Weird scores and weird windy spells dominated the women's semifinals at the U.S. Open on Friday.
But nothing was odder than Weird Jelena Jankovic.
The 21-year-old Serb had one of the more extraordinary meltdowns at a key moment in recent Grand Slam history. She was up a set and leading, 4-2, in the second against second-seeded Justine Henin-Hardenne and had a point for a 5-2 lead before unraveling after an argument with the chair umpire between serves.
After that, it all stopped making sense. Henin-Hardenne, who had been grabbing her sore back, seized the moment and won the final 10 games, defeating Jankovic, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0, on Friday.
"I came back from nowhere today," Henin-Hardenne said.
In tonight's final, she will play No. 3 Maria Sharapova, who upset No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo, 6-0, 4-6, 6-0. It will be Sharapova's first U.S. Open final, and her first final in a major since winning Wimbledon in 2004, and she did an admirable job of regaining focus after the second set.
"I knew the match wasn't over," she said. "It was equal. There's still another set to be played. I didn't think I played a bad second set. She just played a really good game to beat me. And if I could beat her 6-0 in the first, I could definitely do it again. There was no doubt in my mind."
Speaking of doubts, even the steely Henin-Hardenne, who will be playing in her fourth consecutive Slam final, had some. Her back was sore, her serve was landing all over the place -- 12 double faults in the first two sets -- and there was the free-swinging kid on the other side.
Jankovic was especially fearless, hitting her formidable backhand for winners down the line and crosscourt. No wonder Henin-Hardenne was clutching her back. Oddly, Jankovic had been the one with the bigger injury question, hurting her back in practice Wednesday and unable to bend over to tie her shoes.
But Jankovic's smiles and joie de vivre slipped away in the sixth game of the second set, replaced by anger in the seventh and desperation and futility after that. She had been jawing at chair umpire Enric Molina of Spain about the instant replay system, saying: "I can't challenge 10 times." The tension hit another level at 4-2, 40-30, when she argued with him between serves and double-faulted. Two points later, Henin-Hardenne had the break and the youngster self-destructed and would not win another game.
Her anger carried into the interview room. She said Molina "has to do his job. ... If he saw the ball out, he has to make a correction. Why does he always leave it to the players to challenge? We only have two challenges [per set], then it's 50-50. You cannot waste them. Then when it's big points, what are you going to do?"
Jankovic took aim at Henin-Hardenne.
"She was acting like she had the pain in her back, and she was like trying to start me thinking or something," Jankovic said. "Because I was looking at her, and she was, 'Oh, I have pain in my back.' Or whatever she was doing. That's the time when she was losing. Then when she's winning, all of a sudden, she's hitting the biggest serves ever and all that. I'm like, 'Now your back doesn't hurt?' "
Jankovic continued her riff and suddenly stopped and laughed, saying: "No comment."
Apparently, she'd said enough.
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Head to head
How today's finalists in the U.S. Open women's singles championships have fared in previous meetings:
JUSTINE HENIN-HARDENNE (2) vs. MARIA SHARAPOVA (3)
Henin-Hardenne leads, 4-1
*--* Year Tournament Surface Round Winner 2005 Miami hard-outdoor Quarters Sharapova, 6-1, 6-7 (6), 6-2. 2005 Berlin Open clay-outdoor Quarters Henin-Hardenne, 6-2, 6-4. 2005 French Open clay-outdoor Quarters Henin-Hardenne, 6-4, 6-2. 2005 Australian Open hard-outdoor Semis Henin-Hardenne, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4. 2006 Dubai hard-outdoor Final Henin-Hardenne, 7-5, 6-2.
Source: Associated Press