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Opportunity beckons for leading four

Written by: Staff

LONDON, July 5 (Reuters) Maria Sharapova will be the odd one out when the women's singles reaches the semi-final stage at Wimbledon tomorrow.

The Russian is the only member of the four protaganists to hold aloft the Rosewater Dish. For the other three the tournament has always ended in disappointment.

World number one Amelie Mauresmo, who plays 2004 champion Sharapova, has lost in the semi-final on her three previous visits while Justine Henin-Hardenne and fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters have three semi-final defeats between them.

Even Sharapova has suffered semi-final heartache. Since winning here she has lost five times at the last four stage in grand slams, including to Venus Williams at last year's Wimbledon.

There is plenty on the line tomorrow in what promise to be two intriguing semi-finals.

Sharapova will need to beat Mauresmo for the first time in her career if she is to keep alive her dream of a sequel to her famous title victory over Serena Williams two years ago.

It should be a fascinating contrast in styles and temperaments.

While the 19-year-old Russian relies on flat-out baseline power, Mauresmo brings a beguiling mix of angles and spins to the court.

Where Sharapova is all intensity and focus, Mauresmo rides the emotional highs and lows and can lurch between fantasy tennis and error-riddled slumps.

Mauresmo is clearly in the mood for a scrap.

''The tournament is getting tougher and tougher as you go through rounds, that's what's going to happen again on Thursday,'' she said after her patchy defeat of Anastasia Myskina in the fourth round.

''But I'm really looking forward to this one. It's obviously why you play tennis, to play these big matches and to be able to walk out on these big courts in such big occasions.

''It's three losses in the semi-final here so I'm looking forward to go through this one and try to reach the final.'' LONG RIVALRY The second semi-final continues a rivalry between two Belgians that goes back to their days as eight-year-olds on the junior circuit, although it is their first meeting at Wimbledon.

Second seed Clijsters holds a 10-9 lead since 2001, although Henin-Hardenne beat her last month on her way to a third French Open title and again at the Eastbourne grasscourt tournament.

Henin-Hardenne needs just a Wimbledon title to complete her collection of grand slam titles.

''It's the third time in a month so I think that we know each other well enough,'' said the 24-year-old Henin-Hardenne.

''But never here in Wimbledon.

''As a kid I wasn't dreaming about Wimbledon, I was dreaming of the French Open.

''Now things are probably different because Wimbledon is a great challenge for me. For sure, I would sign for one Wimbledon in my career.'' Clijsters, who reached the semi-final in 2003, said she knew exactly what to expect from her Fed Cup team mate.

''Against Justine you have to expect every ball to come back,'' she said.

''I have a very tough task ahead of me, but it's definitely a challenge that I look forward to.'' REUTERS SHB KP2127

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