They couldn't have gotten the seedings more perfect for this Wimbledon. The top four women in tennis dispatched the final pretenders for the crown yesterday and roared into the semifinals.
Every one of them raised their games to notch their fifth wins of this fortnight and, when they reconvene here tomorrow to find out who goes to the final, all will be working with critical momentum.
Mauresmo, who turns 27 today and is the oldest of the four, received an expected challenge from Anastasia Myskina but survived, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.
Clijsters, in a 6-4, 7-5 victory over Li Na, got a first and impressive look at the physical strength and pounding ground strokes of the leader of the Chinese tennis revolution.
Henin-Hardenne, who hasn't lost a set, had to come from behind in the second to end the surprise run of qualifier Severine Bremond, 6-4, 6-4.
And Sharapova, who needed to find her serve after a dodgy fourth-round win over Flavia Pennetta, cracked 20 unreturned deliveries to easily defeat Elena Dementieva, 6-1, 6-4.
If there is history to be made here in the final two matches, it will be primarily for Henin-Hardenne, who with a fifth major title would have championships in each of the four Slams.
But she refuses to be drawn into a discussion of that honor until she reaches the final. "I'm not going to change my mind because I'm in the semis," she said. "Let's go step by step."
No one had an easier time than Sharapova, whose movement and ball-striking ability on grass is far superior to Dementieva's.
And no one had a tougher time than Clijsters, who had to parry away a set point with Li serving at 5-3 and 40-30. She never flinched.
"What you try to do is not give the point away," said Clijsters. "You try to defend well. You try to keep that extra shot in. I remember hitting a slice and, you know, that's the only thing you can do is try to make it hard for your opponent.
"Let them come up with a great shot, and if they can do it, OK." Clijsters repelled that set point by forcing a backhand error.
From there she seized a 6-5 lead and won on her third match point.
Tomorrow, she and her Belgian compatriot Henin-Hardenne will play each other for the 22nd time with Henin holding a one-game advantage in a series that began when Clijsters was 15 years old and they played each other in an ITF event in Israel.
They are not good friends, but they are not, as some have suggested, enemies.
"We get along. People automatically think that because you beat each other, it creates tension or something. But I've never had that," said Clijsters.
It will be a third meeting between Sharapova and Mauresmo, with the French woman having won both times at the tour championships the past two years.
This is Mauresmo's fourth consecutive semifinal here, which is her furthest progress at Wimbledon, and nerves may have been a factor in earlier years, but not after winning her first major at the Australian Open this year, she says.
"I feel more relaxed, even though today I got a little bit tense in that second set," she said. "But I do feel things are really different now and that I'm doing things differently on court and off the court, also. I'm much more relaxed, much more open to people, to things, not getting frustrated the way I was before."
There is no question about Sharapova's easy nature going into this semifinal. The inevitable streaker pranced across Centre Court in her second set, leaving her amused.
Frightened? "Not when you look at the security guards and they're laughing," Sharapova said. "Then they took out these red blankets. They must have been prepared, but I don't know why they were laughing.
"I didn't really look at the guy, thank God. I didn't want to look at all the details."
Two of these women are going to streak into the final on Saturday and Henin-Hardenne and Sharapova are a couple of good bets.
They're not seeded one and two, but they are playing like it.
Charles Bricker writes for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.