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Henin-Hardenne a Powerhouse

June 08, 2003|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

PARIS — The balls were coming to Justine Henin-Hardenne in her power zone, a little high, a little short and perfectly ready to be whacked around the court, landing wherever there was a line to be hit.

Kim Clijsters, seeded second and considered the stronger of the two French Open women's finalists, was unable to find the space or time to wind up and wallop. She couldn't make Henin-Hardenne uncomfortable on center court at Roland Garros.

It took 31 minutes Saturday for Clijsters to win a game and it will take her another day at another time to win a major championship. Fourth-seeded Henin-Hardenne won her first Grand Slam title with a 6-0, 6-4 win over Clijsters. Henin-Hardenne, who will pass Venus Williams to be ranked No. 3 in the world on Monday, earned $958,000 while Clijsters won $479,000.

The two Belgian women, the first from their country to face off in a Grand Slam final, played a passionless match in front of the king and queen of Belgium. The yellow, black and red Belgian flag waved everywhere. It was for sale on the street, it was wrapped around heads as bandanas, it was worn on lapels as pins and before the match started, it brought forth a raucous party in the stands.

But on this occasion of the first women's Slam final since the 2002 Australian Open that didn't have Serena Williams playing her big sister Venus, the tennis was as ragged and without tension as any of the much-criticized Williams-sister battles.

Henin-Hardenne, 21, was asked if some day soon, people might be saying, "We're getting sick of these all-Belgian finals."

There was laughter, but then Henin-Hardenne said, "It's the first final we play, two Belgian players. It's just amazing. I hope people enjoyed it."

There was, though, none of the drama that had filled the stadium Thursday when Henin-Hardenne had upset defending champion Serena Williams in an emotional semifinal. The crowd that had so vehemently supported Henin-Hardenne through that intense match was unable to get involved in the final between the two Belgian friends.

Clijsters, who turns 20 today, won the fewest games in a final since 1988 when Steffi Graf beat Natasha Zvereva, 6-0, 6-0, in under 40 minutes. In the first set, Clijsters was offered six break points by Henin-Hardenne but could convert none of them.

"Justine was not giving me anything free on those points," Clijsters said.

After the final point, a Clijsters forehand that hit the top of the net then fell back toward her, Henin-Hardenne gasped and raised her arms. She gave teary thanks to her husband of seven months, Pierre-Yves, and to her coach of seven years, Carlos Rodriguez. She also thanked her mother, Francoise.

When she was 9, Henin-Hardenne had come to Roland Garros with her mother. It was 1992 and she sat in awe in a seat close to the court where she watched Monica Seles beat Graf, 6-2, 3-6, 10-8, in a classically hard-fought match between two rivals.

Two years later, Henin-Hardenne's mother died of cancer. Saturday, with tears touching her cheeks, Henin-Hardenne dedicated this biggest win of her career to Francoise and to that day a little girl told her mother, "One day I'll be on this court and maybe I'll win. And today I did."

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