Henin-Hardenne Shows Heart, Takes Title
by Lisa Zimmerman
Saturday, September 6, 2003
In an amazing show of tenacity and fortitude, No. 2 women's seed Justine Henin-Hardenne hit the court tonight for her women's singles finals match. After what will undoubtedly be considered a historic battle last night against Jennifer Capriati, in which she had to contend with not just her opponent, but leg cramps as well, Henin-Hardenne showed what she is made of, breaking No. 1 Kim Clijsters in the very first game.
What made the feat even more amazing was that at one point in mid-afternoon, it was uncertain whether or not Henin-Hardenne would actually be able to compete in the match because of the lasting effects of last night's cramps.
But, she was there and in it all the way. The crowd was mesmerized as the Belgians stayed with each other, step for step in the first set, with Henin-Hardenne pulling it out at 7-5.
Then in the second set, it was simply all Henin-Hardenne. With Clijsters, shockingly, able to take just one game from her compatriot, Henin-Hardenne captured her first US Open title - and the hearts of tennis fans everywhere - with a final score of 7-5, 6-1.
Gutsy Henin-Hardenne Soars to US Open Crown
by Matthew Cronin
Saturday, September 6, 2003
In one of the amazing displays of rapid-fire, all-court tennis in women's tennis history, Belgium's Justine Henin-Hardenne knocked out fellow countrywoman and No. 1 Kim Clijsters 7-5, 6-1 and won her first US Open title.
Playing extraordinarily well despite the fact that she was forced to play more than three hours in downing Jennifer Capriati in the semifinal just 20 hours before the finals, Henin-Hardenne chopped down the bigger Clijsters by simply out-hitting her from the baseline, playing all pro defense and much more ambitiously on the big points.
"I'm so happy right now, it's just amazing," said Henin-Hardenne, who also won the French Open in June. "To have won two Grand Slams in a year, I couldn't believe I could do it but I feel much stronger than I have in the past. It's a great confirmation for me after the French . I had a great reaction because you never know when you win a Grand Slam how you going to feel. You don't know if your motivation is gonna be alright after a big win. It's been an unbelievable few months."
Even though she only slept a few hours while she stayed awake pondering the Capriati victory, the 21-year-old Henin-Hardenne still believed in her chances.
"When you have to play a Grand Slam final, you cannot be tired," Henin-Hardenne said. "You have to give your best."
Henin-Hardenne was quicker, stronger and more consistent from the forehand side and her usual perfect self when she mixed up topspin, flat and slice backhands. For her part, Clijsters never could crank up her serve or find the rhythm on her forehand side.
Pumped up to win her first Open title and to show the rest of the tour that she's a true force on hard courts, Henin-Hardenne came out firing in the first set, jumping out to a 3-0 lead when she ripped a crosscourt forehand winner. But Clijsters began to find the range and depth on her shots and bullied her way to a 5-4 lead.
Clijsters held two set points on Henin-Hardenne's serve at 5-4, but Henin-Hardenne responded by cracking an ace and forcing Clijsters into a backhand error. Henin-Hardenne then broke Clijsters to 6-5 by crushing a backhand down the line winner and won the set when she forced Clijsters into a forehand error.
Henin-Hardenne, who hadn't lost a match since Wimbledon, played a nearly prefect set, dictating from inside the baseline and outstroking Clijsters to all angles of the court. Although she gives away 25 pounds to Clijsters, it was Henin-Hardenne who struck the heavyweight blows while Clijsters often seemed like a undersized middleweight as she was forced to do most of the retrieving.
"I'm strong enough to compete with these players," Henin-Hardenne said. "It's amazing how things have changed in a year. I'm not afraid of the power of the other player because I'm powerful and everybody knows it right now."
She broke Clijsters twice to go ahead 3-0 with an overhead and a running backhand crosscourt winner. After holding to 5-1 by burying a crosscourt forehand winner, Henin-Hardenne yelled out her trademark "Allez" and did three mini-jumps in front of her box.
The now two-time Grand Slam champion authoritatively ended the match by powering home an inside-out forehand swing volley.
"I'm free of being afraid of losing," Henin-Hardenne said, "I just go on and play and have no regrets about the match."
The No. 2 ranked Henin-Hardenne is still a little more than 300 points behind Clijsters in the race to the year end No.1, but given that's she won four titles this summer, had a perfect record on hardcourts in winning three titles, she's arguably the people's No. 1, especially considering that her countrywoman hasn't won a major and she has beaten Clijsters the last three times they've played.
"I believe that when I see that I'm No.1 ," Henin-Hardenne said. "But it's true; in the last few months I've been very consistent and played unbelievable. I finished the matches I had to finish. I'm very strong right now and I think the other players can see it, too."
Henin-Hardenne is Number One at Heart
by Greg Laub
Saturday, September 6, 2003
It was four weeks ago tomorrow that Kim Clijsters held up a four foot floral arrangement shaped as the number one, signifying her overtaking of Serena Williams as the top ranked woman in all of tennis, a position previously held by the American for 57 weeks in a row.
By defeating former world No. 1 Lindsay Davenport in the Los Angeles final earlier that day for her 16th career title and tour-leading sixth title this season, she became just the 12th woman to hold the top spot since the inception of computer rankings on Nov. 3, 1975.
But in that all time, none of the previous eleven women ever made tennis fans feel the need to question the computer. Until now.
Since hoisting that giant bouquet, Clijsters has been criticized by many for being the only woman to ever hold the No. 1 spot without ever capturing a Grand Slam, and the computer rankings have been put under the microscope for it’s inability to separate quantity from quality.
Sure, she plays in more matches than most women, but she’s had her fair share of chances to exorcise those demons, and has always fallen short in the end. Tonight, with yet another chance to silence those critics, she lost again to familiar foe, and that familiar foe is slowly proving that some things go deeper than numbers.
When Justine Henin-Hardenne defeated Clijsters to win the 2003 US Open singles title tonight, she once again showed the world who the real champion is between the two Belgians, regardless that she is ranked No. 3 in the world.
She is the real champion, because she finds a way to win the big match. She knows what it takes. She has the heart of a rebel, and the guts of a warrior.
Tonight, as always, Henin-Hardenne was able put her obstacles behind her, still managing to dominate play from the very start of the match to the very end. While Clijsters was fighting her own mental demons, Henin-Hardenne was struggling with more severe physical problems sustained the night before, when her three-hour-plus match against Jennifer Capriati took so much out of her that she nearly was forced to bow out of tonight’s match due to fatigue before it even started.
But she dug deep, took to the court and battled, as she has done so many times before, and in the end reigned supreme.
The last time Henin-Hardenne and Clijsters met, in a final at San Diego last month, Clijsters accused Henin-Hardenne of poor sportsmanship for taking excessive injury timeouts. During a news conference, Henin-Hardenne called Clijsters' remarks "stupid" and added "I understand that sometimes it's hard to lose, but she has to accept that."
Tonight, Kim did not comment on Justine’s injuries. She instead took the respectful route, telling the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium and reporters afterward that Justine was simply the better player tonight. Clijsters lauded Justine’s efforts, and is seemingly realizing right before our very eyes that while she may be the one ranked No. 1, Justine is the one who has the extra something that every true champion needs to win the big one.
After all, this isn’t the first time Henin-Hardenne has squashed Clijsters’ title chances, and certainly not the first time she has won a big match over her adversary. Including tonight’s victory, she has now defeated Clijsters four out of the last five times they've met – all finals. Amongst those finals were two Grand Slams: the French Open, which Henin-Hardenne won handily, 6-0, 6-4, and tonight, which she won 7-5, 6-1.
In fact, the only final Clijsters has won in the history of this rivalry came in June at the Ordina Open in the Netherlands, when Henin-Hardenne was forced to retire in the second set after hurting her left hand while stumbling. Interestingly, the only other final these two have played before this year came at the same tournament back in 2001, which Henin-Hardenne won, making it a total of five out of six finals for Justine.
Naturally, Clijsters has been the lower seed in each of those tournaments.
And, while Henin-Hardenne proved to the world again tonight that she is the superior champion, when the rankings come out Monday morning, Clijsters will still be ranked No. 1 in the world.
But that’s just because you can’t measure heart with a computer.