It was almost as if Lindsay Davenport had resigned herself to winning ugly, ungainly matches on the uneasy terrain of Roland Garros from the moment she arrived in Paris for the 2005 French Open. Regardless of the caliber of opponent, Davenport started each match on leaden feet, wobbled into form and eked out a three-set victory that propelled her one step closer to the only Grand Slam title to elude her, apologizing for her clay-court awkwardness every step of the way.
That high-risk, high-stress approach failed miserably Tuesday, as the top-seeded Davenport got steamrolled, 6-3, 6-2, by Frenchwoman Mary Pierce, who parlayed dazzling shot-making and the support of the Parisian crowd into her first semifinal appearance in the tournament since she won it in 2000.
Davenport, meantime, leaves Paris still in possession of the world's No. 1 ranking because second-ranked Maria Sharapova was also ushered out of the French in lopsided fashion Tuesday. Belgium's Justine Henin-Hardenne dismissed the defending Wimbledon champion, 6-4, 6-2, establishing herself as the favorite to win the title despite her modest 10th seed.
Thursday's women's semifinals will pit the 30-year-old Pierce against Russia's Elena Likhovtseva, a 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 victor over 15-year-old Sesil Karatantcheva on Tuesday, while Henin-Hardenne will face Russia's Nadia Petrova, who defeated 17-year-old Ana Ivanovic of Serbia and Montenegro, 6-2, 6-2.
Davenport was the sole American remaining in the world's most prestigious clay-court tournament. And though she progressed farther than she anticipated, she found it difficult, at least initially, to find the silver lining.
"I was struggling so much," she said.
Eight days shy of her 29th birthday, it's unclear how many more chances Davenport will have to win the French Open that would complete a career Grand Slam. If this was her final appearance at Roland Garros, she conceded, it was hardly material for her memory book.
Against Pierce, Davenport could do nothing right. She flubbed easy volleys, overplayed service returns and double-faulted six times. Across the net, Pierce's racket seemed touched by providence.
Pierce didn't simply drive balls deep; she nailed the baseline's tape. She angled shots into corners and flicked artful drop shots that spun back on themselves and died a poetic death. Asked by a French reporter to describe her state of mind, Pierce replied: "In English there is [an expression] for that: 'Soar like an eagle.' I don't know how it translates in French. It's like gliding -- gliding in the sky like an eagle. That's what I felt."
Davenport had three break points with Pierce serving at 4-2 in the first set but squandered each one.
"In the beginning, all her shots were hitting the line," Davenport said. "Her margin was incredible! She hit a ton of white lines. And I blew it by not breaking when I had love-40 at 2-4. . . . I mean, just missing balls on top of her playing well -- it's just a bad combo."
Pierce sustained her exceptional play into the second set, and the French crowd brayed its approval at every winner. The crowd erupted into the wave, chanting "Mah-REE! Mah-REE!" when Pierce surged to a 3-0 lead. With Pierce serving for the match at 5-0, the raucous atmosphere deteriorated further as a fan raced onto the court and stripped off his shirt to reveal a torso adorned with French graffiti. Play was halted briefly as security guards hustled him away.
"It was stupid," Davenport said later. Still, she managed to break Pierce's serve and hold her own to pull within 5-2. But the comeback stalled there, as Davenport shoveled one last backhand into the net to send Pierce into the semifinals.
Said Davenport, "I just didn't have the tools today to be capable of really challenging her and getting her out of her strike zone."
Neither did the hard-hitting Sharapova against Henin-Hardenne, who employed nearly every shot in her repertoire to defeat the young Russian. Just one day after her 3-hour 14-minute, come-from-behind victory over Svetlana Kuznetsova, Henin-Hardenne showed no trace of fatigue. She won 73 percent of her first serves and kept Sharapova from establishing a rhythm by bombarding her with winners of every variety: Drop shots, forehand passing shots and sliced backhands that veered beyond the Russian's expansive reach.
"I would be surprised if she didn't win it," Sharapova said of Henin-Hardenne.
As for her part, Sharapova said she planned to do some "retail therapy" (Maria-speak for "shopping") in Paris before heading to the grass courts of England, where she will start preparing to defend her Wimbledon title.
Elsewhere on the Roland Garros grounds Tuesday the most compelling half of Friday's men's semifinals was set, as top-seed Roger Federer breezed past Romania's Victor Hanescu, 6-2, 7-6 (7-3), 6-3, and Spain's Rafael Nadal dismissed countryman David Ferrer, 7-5, 6-2, 6-0.