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NOTES

Henin Vows to Remain True to Her Tennis Game

November 07, 2002|Lauren Peterson | Times Staff Writer

If No. 4-seeded Justine Henin of Belgium wins the Home Depot WTA Championships, it will be only one highlight for her this month.

Henin, 20, who opened the tournament with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Elena Dementieva of Russia on Wednesday, plans to marry her fiance of two years, Pierre-Yves Hardenne, in Belgium on Nov. 16.

"It's all set. My agent and my family took care of everything," she said. "When I'm out on the court, I'm not thinking about my wedding at all. I'm just focused on my match."

To win the championships, Henin will have to get past fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters, the fifth-seeded player who rolled past American Chanda Rubin, 6-1, 6-2, in another first-round match.

The pair have gone head-to-head three times this year, with Clijsters winning twice. They have split eight meetings since 1998, with Clijsters winning in the semifinals of the 2001 French Open and in the quarterfinals of this year's Australian Open.

"It's always a little special," Henin said. "I mean, it's a different match for us than to play another player. But we have to deal with that because we will have to play many times in the future."

The future is now. Henin and Clijsters will meet in the quarterfinals Friday or Saturday.

"I think it's great for Belgium to have both," Clijsters said. "But I don't really focus on the player in front of me. I know I have to stay focused to win."

*

A 57-minute rout by Clijsters wasn't the sort of ending Rubin had in mind for a season that was otherwise triumphant.

"It's definitely been a fairly good year coming into this tournament," she said. "I only had half a year of tournaments, so it was great for me to be here and have a shot out there today. I'm just disappointed I didn't take better advantage of it."

Rubin had surgery on her left knee in 2001 and again in January, missing the Australian Open.

She returned in May and won nine matches in Grand Slam events, and won tournaments in Eastbourne and Manhattan Beach.

In August, she defeated No. 1 Serena Williams, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 -- the only player to do so since May -- in the quarterfinals of the Manhattan Beach event, where she also beat Lindsay Davenport in a three-set title match.

"Overall, it's been a good year," Rubin said.

*

The crowds for the tournament's first appearance at Staples Center were sparse. Tournament officials would not release an attendance figure for the day session but said 6,247 tickets were sold for the two sessions. They said about 3,200 attended the night matches.

"We knew going into it that our Wednesday day, Thursday day and Friday days were going to be slow," said tournament director John Arrix, who attributed the light turnout to fans' school and work commitments. "This is very typical for a day session of an indoor tournament during the week."

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