Henin crushes Pe’er’s final hopes in Stuttgart

Sela reaches final of Rhodes Challenger.

Shahar Peer 311 (photo credit: Daniel Maurer/DAPD/AP)
Shahar Peer 311
(photo credit: Daniel Maurer/DAPD/AP)
Shahar Pe’er’s hope of celebrating her 23rd birthday with one of the biggest wins of her career ended in disappointment on Saturday.
Pe’er, ranked number 20 in the world, was beaten 6-3, 6-2 by former world No. 1 Justine Henin in the semifinals of the Porsche Grand Prix, ending the Israeli’s excellent run in Stuttgart.
On Friday, Pe’er claimed her fourth victory of the year over a top-10 player, defeating No. 3 Dinara Safina 6-3, 6-2 to reach her fourth semifinal of 2010.
However, on Saturday, Pe’er could not keep up with Henin, who gave the birthday girl no presents and finished with 28 winners, twice as many as the Israeli.
“I made mistakes but I was good enough today,” said Henin, who advanced to her third final in five tournaments since coming out of retirement in January, but is still looking for her first title of the year. “I just have to keep going and to be aggressive. When I am aggressive my game is so much better.”
Henin was the runner-up in Brisbane and at the Australian Open in January, her first two tournaments after returning from 18 months in retirement. The Belgian won the Stuttgart event in 2007 and was a finalist in 2001 and 2003. She was a wild-card entry this year.
She had a scary moment on her first match point, when she took a wrong step on the red clay and fell while trying to reach a shot. Pe’er’s ball hit the line, but on her next match point, Henin fired a backhand return winner down the line.
Henin has four French Open titles among her seven major championships and began her preparation for the clay season in Stuttgart.
Despite the disappointment of losing, Pe’er ends the tournament with 200 rankings points and $30,000 in prize money and will be in a confident mood ahead of this week’s $2,000,000 event in Rome.
Also Saturday, Dudi Sela (67) reached the final of the Challenger tournament in Rhodes, defeating Yen-Hsun Lu 6-2, 3-6, 6-4. Sela will face Rainer Schuettler (85) for the title on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal was seriously tested by Ernests Gulbis before finally wearing down his 40th-ranked opponent to pull out a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 win in the semifinals of the Rome Masters on Saturday.
It was the first time in nine matches on clay this year that Nadal dropped a set.
Routinely putting first serves in at 215 kph (133 mph), Gulbis didn’t allow Nadal his usual rhythm on return games and the Spaniard converted only two of 12 break points.
Nadal broke Gulbis in the opening game of the match and had to wait until the final game before doing it again, when a backhand from the Latvian sailed wide.
Upon sealing the 2 hour, 46-minute marathon, Nadal let out a big scream and jump with a series of fist pumps.
In the title match, Nadal will meet fellow Spaniard David Ferrer, whobeat a sluggish Fernando Verdasco 7-5, 6-3 to advance to the firstMasters Series final of his career.
The 21-year-old Gulbis was attempting to beat Roger Federerand Nadal in the same tournament, having stunned the top-ranked Swissin the second round.
While the match against Federer was error-ridden on both sides, thismatch provided a sharp contrast in styles, with Nadal providing hisusual steady and mostly error-free play and Gulbis going for winners atwill.
Gulbis held a huge 50-18 edge in winners but committed 56 unforcederrors to Nadal’s 23. Gulbis also served 13 aces to Nadal’s none.
Against Ferrer, Nadal will be aiming for his fifth Rome title in six years.