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This Final Is Just Between Friends

June 07, 2003|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

PARIS — It has been sister against sister in Grand Slam event finals, four consecutive championship battles between Serena and Venus Williams, matches that were criticized for lacking inherent rivalry, for their unsurprising flatness.

Now it's Belgian against Belgian.

At the French Open today, and for the first time in history, two Belgian women, second-seeded Kim Clijsters and fourth-seeded Justine Henin-Hardenne, will play for a major championship. It will be a battle between friends, a matchup of two women who have grown up together as tennis players and winners.

"It's going to be a special situation," said Henin-Hardenne, who turned 21 during the tournament. "Everybody knows the matches between Kim and I are very special. We really never played great, great matches. It's a little bit hard to be 100% and have the same determination, but we will try to play a good match."

The careers of Clijsters and Henin-Hardenne have followed parallel courses.

They made their WTA Tour debuts in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1999. Henin-Hardenne won her first title at that event; Clijsters that same year in Luxembourg. They reached their first Grand Slam semifinals at the 2001 French Open. Clijsters reached her first Grand Slam final in the same tournament. Henin-Hardenne reached hers six weeks later at Wimbledon

And each will be playing her second Grand Slam final today.

Clijsters, who will turn 20 Sunday, leads the head-to-head meetings, 7-5. Henin-Hardenne won their last meeting, this spring in Berlin, on clay. The score was 6-4, 4-6, 7-5.

"We played a good match in Berlin, for sure," Henin-Hardenne said. "It was a hard match."

This is the first time since Mary Pierce won the 2000 French Open that an American woman won't hold the most recent Grand Slam title. U.S. women have won the last 11 Slam events, starting with Venus Williams at the 2000 Wimbledon. American women have won 14 of the last 15 Slam tournaments -- Serena Williams five, Venus four, Jennifer Capriati three and Lindsay Davenport two.

"It's good for women's tennis," Henin-Hardenne said of the fresh faces that will be playing at Roland Garros today.

Henin-Hardenne was also asked about her emotional, three-set win over Serena Williams in Thursday's semifinals.

The vehement anti-Williams attitude of the crowd had left the defending champion in tears. Williams also called Henin-Hardenne a "liar" for not acknowledging that she had raised her hand and asked for time as Williams was preparing to serve late in the third set. When Williams asked for another first serve, she was denied and Henin-Hardenne did not indicate to the chair umpire that she had called for time.

"I did raise my hand, yeah," Henin-Hardenne said. "I wasn't ready. I think she saw me and she served. There's a chair umpire and he's there to deal with this kind of situation. It was her decision to serve. I just tried to stay focused."

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Brian Baker, an 18-year-old from Nashville who is being coached through the United States Tennis Assn.'s program, advanced to the final of the boys' singles Friday with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over France's Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Baker is trying to become the first American boy to win the junior event since John McEnroe in 1977.

The son of an attorney and a schoolteacher, the 6-foot-3, 175-pound Baker says he plays on clay "about twice a year."

On the basis of his play here and during the winter junior season, Baker said he was "95% sure" that he would turn pro after Wimbledon rather than accept a tennis scholarship to Florida or Vanderbilt.

He said he admired Pete Sampras, mostly for the 14-time Grand Slam champion's steady demeanor but partly because Baker's older brother Art, who plays tennis at Furman, also is a Sampras fan. His father, Steve, who is 6-6, took up tennis after college, Baker said.

"He liked it so much, he built a court in the backyard," Baker said.

Baker and his partner, Phillip Simmonds of Reston, Va., lost to Gyorgy Balazs of Hungary and Dudi Sela of Israel in the doubles semifinals, 6-3, 2-6, 6-4.

*

Second-seeded Mike Bryan of Camarillo and Lisa Raymond of Wayne, Pa., won their second Grand Slam mixed doubles title with a 6-3, 6-4 win over third-seeded Elena Likhovtseva of Russia and Mahesh Bhupathi of India. It was Raymond's seventh major title -- three in doubles, four in mixed -- but her first here. Bryan and his brother, Bob, seeded third, will play in the men's doubles final today against 11th-seeded Paul Haarhuis of the Netherlands and Yevgeny Kafelnikov of Russia. The Bryans are aiming for their first Grand Slam title together.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Head-to-Head

*--* Kim Clijsters (2) vs. Justine Henin-Hardenne (4) Clijsters leads, 7-5 French Open final today, 6 a.m., Ch. 4 1998 Ramat Hasharon, QF, Henin, 6-1, 7-6 (3) 1999 Reims, F, Henin, 6-4, 6-4 2001 Indian Wells, R32, Clijsters, 1-6, 6-4, 6-3 French Open, SF, Clijsters, 2-6, 7-5, 6-3 Den Bosch, F, Henin, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 2002 Sydney, QF, Clijsters, 7-6 (6), 6-2 Australian Open, QF, Clijsters, 6-2, 6-3 Rome, SF, Henin, 7-5, 6-2 Tour Championship, QF, Clijsters, 6-2, 6-1 2003 Sydney, SF, Clijsters, 6-2, 6-3 Antwerp, SF, Clijsters, 6-2, 7-6 (3) Berlin, F, Henin-Hardenne, 6-4, 4-6, 7-5

*--*

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