By Howard Fendrich
PARIS - Befuddled all match, Serena Williams reacted to one flubbed backhand by spiking her racket to the court, drawing full-throated boos from spectators.
It was as spirited as Williams - or the crowd - got during her lopsided French Open quarterfinal loss to No. 1 Justine Henin, the one moment Tuesday when the last U.S. singles player in the tournament truly appeared to want to turn things around.
Too many mistakes and too little fight followed from Williams, though, and Henin beat her 6-4, 6-3 to close in on a third straight title at Roland Garros.
This meeting bore no resemblance to their infamous 2003 French Open semifinal, a three-set tussle that featured far more drama, acrimony and, well, competitive tennis. "All she had to do was show up," said Williams, who won the Australian Open in January for her eighth major championship. "I thought that she did well, but I've played against her when she's played even better."
Told of those comments, Henin took the high road. "Well, it's her opinion," the Belgian said. "I thought I did a good job. I see it from my point of view, and I did everything I could to control the match."
She certainly did, and in the process extended her record streak to 31 consecutive sets won at the French Open.
A set was lost by - gasp! - Roger Federer against No. 9 Tommy Robredo of Spain. But Federer quickly righted himself to win 7-5, 1-6, 6-1, 6-2 and reach the semifinals at a record 12th major tournament in a row.
His opponent Friday will be No. 4 Nikolay Davydenko of Russia, who reached the semifinals by beating No. 19 Guillermo Canas of Argentina 7-5, 6-4, 6-4 despite making 64 unforced errors to Canas' 15. In the women's semifinals Thursday, Henin will face No. 4 Jelena Jankovic of Serbia, who defeated No. 6 Nicole Vaidisova of the Czech Republic 6-3, 7-5.
Henin is trying to win her sixth Grand Slam and fourth French Open title; the other women never have been to the final four at the clay-court major.
Williams didn't seem to think Henin's play had much to do with the way things went in their match, played on the same court four years to the day after their last French Open showdown.
Nowadays, it's Henin who tops the rankings and owns Roland Garros. That other match featured a flap over whether Henin tried to call time, and Williams also fired up the crowd by arguing line calls.
Williams lost, was jeered off the court, then teared up while talking about the rough experience.
Once again, there was more support in the stands for the French-speaking Henin, and several black-yellow-and-red Belgian flags flapped in the wind. But the only time the fans really gave Williams a hard time was when she treated her racket like a football.