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Flawless Open final for Henin

She beats Kuznetsova, 6-1, 6-3, to win the U.S. Open title without dropping a set in seven matches. It's her seventh Grand Slam title.

September 09, 2007|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- How many times does Justine Henin have to win the U.S. Open for people to get her name right?

You had to feel for the top-seeded Henin on Saturday night. Minutes after dismantling No. 4 Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia, 6-1, 6-3, in the women's final with a purposeful display of all-court tennis, winning her second title in New York, she heard the last name of her soon-to-be ex-husband.

CBS' Dick Enberg accidentally called her Justine Henin-Hardenne near the end of the on-court awards ceremony, in which she received $1.4 million for winning the title, and it was the seventh Grand Slam singles championship for the 25-year-old.

Ouch.

Henin didn't wince, but her expression showed it hit home. After all, divorce proceedings, and the public nature of her split with Pierre-Yves and the fallout in her native Belgium, prevented her from going to the Australian Open in January.

Later, Henin was asked about that moment on the court. "No, I don't care about that," she said. "It's been a big part of my life and I have to accept it. It was OK for me. I heard it."

Did it signify how far she has come after the tough start to 2007? "Yeah, maybe, but I didn't think that much on that at that time," she said. "I just wanted to enjoy every moment. It's been a little mistake, but it doesn't change my joy tonight."

Enberg was not alone. An official from JPMorgan Chase inexplicably called her "Christine" during the trophy ceremony when she won her first U.S. Open in 2003, beating Kim Clijsters in the final.

But Henin's entourage laughed about the Christine moment and she smiled too. That road to the title was different. In 2003, she needed medical attention and intravenous fluids in the early morning hours after an exhausting semifinal victory over Jennifer Capriati and then returned that night to crush Clijsters.

This time, she did not drop a set in seven matches. But that shouldn't suggest she wasn't tested.

Along the way, Henin beat both Williams sisters in tense matches -- Serena in the quarterfinals and Venus in the semifinals -- and became the only player to win a Grand Slam title while beating the sisters in the same event.

In 2001, Martina Hingis beat Serena and Venus in the Australian Open but fell short at the last hurdle, losing to Capriati in the final.

"This one is maybe the most important one," Henin said. "The quality I played in the last few matches is amazing. It's just a great feeling because I had a tough draw and I had a lot of things to prove to myself -- not to anyone else, just to myself. And I did it."

Henin was aggressive from the outset, breaking serve at 30 in the opening game. Kuznetsova seemed overwhelmed, falling behind 4-0, and did not win a game until 24 minutes into the match. In particular, her forehand broke down against Henin.

"When she plays her best game, I have to play my best game," said Kuznetsova, who won here in 2004. "I didn't play my best game, so that's why I lost. . . . I felt I just didn't move to the ball well enough because I was pretty tight."

Tightness and nerves did not hit Henin, at least visibly, until the final game. Serving for it, she double-faulted three times, including back-to-back times and looked unnerved when a fan shouted between her first and second serves.

Still, she saved three break points and won the championship by serving and volleying on match point. And why not? Legends Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King were on hand.

This Grand Slam title pulled her within one of Serena Williams' eight and one ahead of Venus. She has two Slam titles this year -- having won the French Open in June.

It's no coincidence this has happened after she reconciled with her estranged family. Life has gotten better.

"I don't want to find any connection," she said. "I'm just feeling happy. And the fact I have my family back in my life helps for sure. I'm feeling at peace with myself, and that's a very important feeling for me because I hate to fight with people. . . . So I do prefer when it's calm, when it's normal. So I can imagine there's a little impact on my tennis."

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lisa.dillman@latimes.com

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Begin text of infobox

Single-handed

The most lopsided U.S. Open women's finals (Open Era, 1968-present):

2007 Justine Henin d.

Svetlana Kuznetsova, 6-1, 6-3.

2005 Kim Clijsters d.

Mary Pierce, 6-3, 6-1.

1997 Martina Hingis d.

Venus Williams, 6-0, 6-4.

1983 Martina Navratilova d.

Chris Evert Lloyd, 6-1, 6-3.

1982 Chris Evert Lloyd d.

Hana Mandlikova, 6-3, 6-1.

1976 Chris Evert d.

Evonne Goolagong, 6-3, 6-0.

1969 Margaret Smith Court d.

Nancy Richey, 6-3, 6-1.

Source: Associated Press

Los Angeles Times

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