PARIS - You can fault Justine Henin-Hardenne's wayward stroking - a worrisome 121 unforced errors in her past two matches - but never doubt her mental resolve.
In a match that was reminiscent of her comeback win over Jennifer Capriati in the semifinals of the 2003 U.S. Open, it was her steely nerves and Svetlana Kuznetsova's emotional shakiness that made the difference yesterday at the French Open.
Looking anything but the defending U.S. Open champion, Kuznetsova nervously failed on two match points at 5-3 in the third set, then dissolved almost completely in the homestretch as the little Belgian triumphed, 7-6 (6), 4-6, 7-5, to reach the quarterfinals against Maria Sharapova.
"I didn't play a great match," Henin-Hardenne said. But she added, "I was seeing her very nervous. She was afraid to win the match. That was very clear. And when you see that in the eyes of your opponent, that is very good for myself."
Henin-Hardenne was down to her final strike at 30-40 but never let up. Playing aggressively, she coaxed Kuznetsova into hitting a forehand wide.
Kuznetsova got one more shot at the quarterfinals two points later when Henin-Hardenne left a ball very short. The powerfully built, squatty Russian raced in to hit a forehand and decided to brush a drop shot cross court from near the left sideline.
The ball was amazingly short and into the net. "That wasn't a very tough shot," Henin-Hardenne said. "I understood at that point I could win the match."
In addition to No. 10 Henin-Hardenne's fourth split-set victory in her past five matches, No. 2 Sharapova raced past unseeded Nuria Llagostera Vives, 6-2, 6-3, and Ana Ivanovic beat Francesca Schiavone, 6-4, 6-7 (3), 6-3.
All four women's quarterfinals will be played today, with Lindsay Davenport facing Mary Pierce; 15-year-old sensation Sesil Karatancheva going at No. 16 Elena Likhovtseva; Ivanovic playing No. 7 Nadia Petrova; and Henin-Hardenne meeting Sharapova in a rematch of their clay court confrontation in Berlin a few weeks ago in which Henin-Hardenne won easily.
In men's play, Rafael Nadal went back on the court to complete his rain-suspended match, and it took just 58 more minutes to dispose of the last Frenchman in the draw, Sebastien Grosjean, 6-4, 3-6, 6-0, 6-3.
There won't be an all-Argentine final, as there was last year between winner Gaston Gaudio and Guillermo Coria. Both were upset yesterday, and the other two survivors are both in the bottom half of the draw.
Gaudio failed to hold a 4-0 fifth-set lead and was beaten by Spaniard David Ferrer, 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5), 5-7, 6-4. Coria was defeated by Nikolay Davydenko, who is 13-1 since his early loss in Rome. Davydenko won, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (1), 6-2.
But two lesser lights from Argentina got through. Guillermo Canas was handed a walkover by Nicolas Kiefer, who woke up with a nerve problem that affects his shoulder. And unseeded Mariano Puerta stormed past Jose Acasuso, 6-4, 6-1, 6-1.
In the bottom half of the draw, Tommy Robredo beat Marat Safin, 7-5, 1-6, 6-1, 4-6, 8-6, and will play Davydenko. Canas will take on Puerta.
Today, Nadal will meet Ferrer, who was close to beating him in Rome. No. 1 Roger Federer will play unseeded Victor Hanescu.
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.
Guillermo Canas (9), Argentina, def. Nicolas Kiefer (28), Germany, walkover. David Ferrer (20), Spain, def. Gaston Gaudio (5), Argentina, 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5), 5-7, 6-4. Nikolay Davydenko (12), Russia, def. Guillermo Coria (8), Argentina, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (1), 6-2. Rafael Nadal (4), Spain, def. Sebastien Grosjean (23), France, 6-4, 3-6, 6-0, 6-3. Mariano Puerta, Argentina, def. Jose Acasuso, Argentina, 6-4, 6-1, 6-1. Tommy Robredo (15), Spain, def. Marat Safin (3), Russia, 7-5, 1-6, 6-1, 4-6, 8-6.
Maria Sharapova (2), Russia, def. Nuria Llagostera Vives, Spain, 6-2, 6-3. Justine Henin-Hardenne (10), Belgium, def. Svetlana Kuznetsova (6), Russia, 7-6 (6), 4-6, 7-5. Ana Ivanovic (29), Serbia-Montenegro, def. Francesca Schiavone (22), Italy, 6-4, 6-7 (3), 6-3.