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TENNIS: Mauresmo has biggest prize in her sights.

Byline: Bill Pierce At Eastbourne

Amelie Mauresmo reached the semi-finals of the Hastings Direct International Championships at Eastbourne yesterday and declared: 'Wimbledon is wide open for me.'

French star Mauresmo, a Wimbledon semi-finalist two years ago, beat gritty Bulgarian rival Magdalena Maleeva 6-4, 6-3 and also conquered Eastbourne's notorious high winds to lap up more grass-court experience, which she knows will be fundamental over the next fortnight.

She said: 'I know I have to serve and volley and get into the net if I am to do well on grass and I tried to do that against Magdalena.

'But the conditions made it difficult for us to do what we wanted with the ball.

'I have been able to develop my game going forward, though, and maybe things are changing a bit.

'It is open at Wimbledon this year, with some top players pulling out, but some good ones still in there.

'It was similar at the French Open, but I did not make the most of my chance.'

Mauresmo, still seeking her first Grand Slam crown despite appearing in the Australian Open final five years ago, went down on home ground in the quarter-finals last month to Russia's Elena Dementieva.

Dementieva's compatriot, Anastasia Myskina, eventually took the French title and is seeded No 2 at Wimbledon, two places above Mauresmo.

But with the Williams sisters, holder Serena and former champion Venus, underperforming this year, Mauresmo is considered by many to have a great chance --especially as Belgium's world toptwo, Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters, have withdrawn through illness and injury respectively.

Daniela Hantuchova, the Slovakian who has rediscovered her form, will meet Mauresmo in an intriguing semi-final after beating third-seeded Japanese player Ai Sugiyama 6-1 7-6.

She said: 'That will be a tough one but I could not have better preparation for Wimbledon than I'm having here.'

The 21-year-old, now biding to rejoin the world's top 50, reversed the result against Sugiyama in their only previous meeting after two sets of contrasting character.

She reeled off the first with much of her familiar old style but looked certain to have to go to a decider after Sugiyama led 5-1 in the second.

But a combination of neversay-die spirit and her opponent's unaccountable collapse in confidence enabled Hantuchova to force a tie-break winning five games in a row.

She blew a match-point at seven-all in the tie-break but was then gifted victory by a double-fault from Sugiyama, who meets Britain's Amanda Janes at Wimbledon next week. Meanwhile, Martina Navratilova is in yet another final --at the age of 47.

This time, though, it is only the Eastbourne Cup consolation event for the nine-times Wimbledon champion.

Navratilova who has 168 WTA titles to her credit and makes her Wimbledon singles comeback next week after a gap of ten years, is playing in her first-ever plate competition --for players knocked out early from the main event --after Britain's Elena Baltacha withdrew on doctor's advice.

Baltacha was due to meet the former world No 1 in the semifinal but has been told to rest before meeting Spain's Marta Marrero at Wimbledon next week.

She is just back after taking six months off last year with a liver complaint.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jun 18, 2004
Words:535
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