Henin desperate to keep lucky charm

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TALISMAN: Justine Henin would like her lucky charm, Emmanuel Rodriguez, to be around as she hopes to carry the birthday smile going in her quest for a hat-trick of titles on the red clay of Roland Garros. — Photo: AP
TALISMAN: Justine Henin would like her lucky charm, Emmanuel Rodriguez, to be around as she hopes to carry the birthday smile going in her quest for a hat-trick of titles on the red clay of Roland Garros. — Photo: AP

PARIS: As she eyes a fourth French Open crown, Justine Henin is keen to hang on to her lucky charm.

The only problem is that her mascot is an eight-year-old boy who cannot keep playing hookey in Paris.

The presence of Emmanuel Rodriguez, the son of Henin's coach Carlos, has always spurred the Belgian to success and she does not want to risk anything that could change her fortunes.

"I'm negotiating for him to stay. Emmanuel is lucky for me," the World No. 1 said after reaching the quarterfinals on Sunday. "He was there in Dubai and he was so happy to see my victory."

After the breakdown of her four-year marriage to Pierre-Yves Hardenne, Henin sought comfort with her coach's family.

Doing wonders

The 25-year-old feels their presence has done wonders for her form this year as she has already won three titles in 2007.

"Emmanuel brings a freshness and happiness and I'm very happy I have great people around me," she said. "His reaction at the age of eight tells more than when he was three or four.

"When I'm in a foreign country, he would call me. He's more and more interested, and even sometimes puts pressure on me, because he says, `Tin Tin,' that's what he calls me `You must win'.

"We love each other. Emmanuel's experienced many things with us and he is a great kid. It's just sheer happiness having him with me."

When reminded that she had never lost a match when Emmanuel was around, she whispered: "Shh, shh. This is something I don't want to talk about."

Too good to be true

Thinking people were making it up, Svetlana Kuznetsova logged on to the Internet to read the evidence herself.

When she saw it written in plain English, she had to pinch herself Roger Federer had picked out the Russian as his favourite player on the women's tour.

"I like her game, she plays well," Federer declared earlier in the week.

It sent Kuznetsova into a spin. "The Russian press told me and I thought `No, it was a joke'. So I wanted to check it myself and read this on the Internet," the third seed said after reaching the quarterfinals at Roland Garros.

"If I would have to choose a compliment from anybody, it's definitely the best I ever heard. Roger is a legend and to hear him say that is almost a dream.

"It's unbelievable to hear my hero say this about my tennis."

A runner-up in Paris 12 months ago, Kuznetsova is now eager to back up Federer's endorsement by winning the title on Saturday.

"If he likes my game, I would like to prove it more," she said.

She will next face rising Serb Ana Ivanovic for a place in the semifinals.

Duck, duck, goose

Serena Williams began to develop a cynical world view way back in kindergarten, when the games of "Duck, Duck, Goose" never went her way.

"It still hurts to talk about it," she said with a smile on Sunday. "I was never `Goose."'

Williams then delivered a detailed description of how the game is played, beginning, "Basically, all the kids from the class sit in a circle."

She continued: "I didn't have many friends. I never got chosen unless it was about time for recess to be over with."

Then, laughing at her own joke, she said, "Man, I need to talk to a shrink about this. I'm going too far into this. Never mind."

Unfit Venus

Turns out Venus Williams played the French Open on a bad knee.

Williams had her left knee checked out by a doctor when she flew home to the United States after losing in the third round at Roland Garros, her father said on Sunday.

"Her knee was swollen, and she shouldn't have played here," Richard Williams said after watching his other tennis-playing daughter, Serena, beat Dinara Safina to reach the French Open quarterfinals.

He said he wondered whether something might be wrong with Venus because of some awkward movement during a straight-set loss to Jelena Jankovic on Friday.

"I didn't learn 'till Venus got home that her knee was actually hurting her," he said, adding that joint has troubled her for years.

Stop the music

When her French Open opponent took an injury timeout on Sunday, Jankovic did what plenty of 22-year-olds would if they wanted to kill some time: She pulled an MP3 player out of her bag.

The chair umpire made the fourth-seeded Serb put it away before she got a chance to listen to any music.

"I didn't know that I'm not allowed to do that," Jankovic said after beating No. 18 Marion Bartoli, the last French singles player in the tournament. "But we're not allowed to have electronics while we are playing."

Bored while Bartoli was off court being treated for a leg problem, Jankovic got out of her changeover chair and hit some practice serves.

"I wanted to play with the ball boy," she said.

Bartoli thought she'd get a lot of help from the home crowd, but instead found herself overwhelmed by the circumstances.

"I felt the pressure when I walked on the court," she said. "Because when you walk on center court and have people applauding you, and you have French flags, and you have people ... that say, 'You're the last French player, fight it. It's the match of your life. What are you doing? You're not playing well.' I mean, that was a bit difficult for me to listen to." Agencies

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