- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 9, 2006

NEW YORK — Maria Sharapova never doubted herself for a moment.

Not in the two-plus years since her breakthrough Wimbledon title. Not after going 0-5 in subsequent Grand Slam semifinals. And certainly not after being broken to lose the second set yesterday at the U.S. Open against No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo.

“I just thought to myself, ‘It’s not over until it’s over,’” Sharapova said. “I was still playing good tennis, and I knew that I could win it.”

She did just that, beating Mauresmo 6-0, 4-6, 6-0 to set up a U.S. Open final against No. 2 Justine Henin-Hardenne, who took the last 10 games for a 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 victory over a collapsing Jelena Jankovic.

“I came back from nowhere today,” Henin-Hardenne said. “I feel lucky to be in the final.”

So might Sharapova, who entered the day 0-3 against Mauresmo and with that growing Slam semifinal jinx. But the Florida-based Russian set aside her mediocre middle set and put together a rare double shutout: It was the first time in the Open era, which began in 1968, that a female semifinalist here lost two sets at love.

While Mauresmo’s bid to win a third major championship this year ended, Roger Federer will try to move closer to his own trio of 2006 Slam titles when he faces No. 7 Nikolay Davydenko in one men’s semifinal today. Andy Roddick, the 2003 Open champion, meets unseeded Mikhail Youzhny in the other.

Tonight, Sharapova will try to overcome a 1-4 head-to-head mark against Henin-Hardenne.

“I had a terrible record against Amelie, and that ended today,” Sharapova said. “I have a terrible record against Justine, so I hope that’s a good luck charm at the Open.”

Punctuating nearly every powerful stroke with high-pitched shouts — her “Aaah! or “Whoo!” so loud at times that spectators snickered — Sharapova dictated the pace from the baseline and kept Mauresmo away from the net by whipping passing shots at will.

There were moments, such as the start of the third set, that Sharapova would suddenly go silent, swallowing her grunts. And then, flipping the switch, the noise returned, louder than ever. After the match, Sharapova wore a gold-flecked T-shirt with the words: “I feel pretty when I grunt.”

Still, unlike Sharapova’s quarterfinal foe, Tatiana Golovin, who complained to the chair umpire about the stroke-accompanying screams, Mauresmo said she wasn’t fazed.

“You hear it much more when you watch the match than when you play against her,” Mauresmo said. “I mean, I just totally don’t pay attention to that.”

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