Article: Garbin Defeats Defending Champ Henin-Hardenne At Roland Garros
Garbin Defeats Defending Champ Henin-Hardenne At Roland Garros
Photo By Paul Zimmer By Richard Pagliaro
The second serve settled softly into the net and downcast defending champion Justine Henin-Hardenne lowered her gaze to the ground after dropping serve for the fifth time. Across the net, an intense Tathiana Garbin pounded her chest with a clenched fist and glanced up at the section of the the crowd screaming support.
Playing with passion and purpose that put her two games away from upsetting the world's top-ranked player, Garbin had plenty of reason to be pumped. The 86th-ranked Italian had not surpassed the second round of a Grand Slam tournament in 12 consecutive majors yet here she stood on the brink of her biggest victory.
Moments after she hailed her heart with her hand, Garbin completed a heart-felt victory, toppling the top-seeded Henin-Hardenne 7-5, 6-4 to advance to the third round of Roland Garros.
"I can’t believe it," Garbin said. "She’s still the number one in the world. I’m just happy to have won."
Henin-Hardenne, who won three of the last four Grand Slam championships, became the first top seed to lose before the third round in the 79-year history of the Roland Garros women's singles.
"She played a very good match. What could I say? It was my bad day and it was her great day. There's nothing else to say," Henin-Hardenne said. "She took her chances, and I wasn't the player I have been for 12 months now. But it's okay, it's life."
The third-round appearance matches Garbin's best Grand Slam result; she reached the third round of Roland Garros and the U.S. Open in 2000.
A combination of Garbin's aggressive attack and Henin-Hardenne's lack of recent match play culminated in this major upset.
In her last match before beginning defense of this title, Henin-Hardenne suffered a semifinal setback to Amelie Mauresmo at last month's Bausch & Lomb Championships at Amelia Island before a viral infection sidelined her for six weeks and sidelined her for the entire European clay-court season.
The illness-induced inactivity was apparent in the Belgian's shaky serve (10 double faults and a 49 percent first-serve ratio), a wayward forehand that accounted for several of her 30 unforced errors and her inability to sustain the leads she built in both sets. Henin-Hardenne overcame a 1-4 first-set deficit, winning four straight games to serve for the set at 5-4, but Garbin reeled off five straight games on the strength of successive service breaks to seize the first set, 7-5 and surge to a 2-0 lead in the second.
During that stretch of the match, Garbin often reduced the world's top player to the role of retriever and had Henin-Hardenne scrambling to stay in points on occasion. The growing concern was evident in Henin-Hardenne's eyes, which repeatedly peered up beneath the brim of her baseball cap searching for signs of support toward coach Carlos Rodriguez and husband Pierre-Yves Hardenne.
The 26-year-old Italian's style of play is slightly reminiscent of Romania's Irina Spirlea. Like Spirlea, Garbin has a strong serve she uses to set up her favored forehand and is comfortable moving forward into the court. Garbin's game-plan was sound: she whipped wide serves to Henin-Hardenne's forehand in the deuce court that often pushed the Belgian into the doubles alley, then took a few quick steps to her left to run around her backhand and fire forehands into the open court. While Henin-Hardenne has worked hard to strengthen her weaker wing, her forehand can still be less reliable then her brilliant one-handed backhand. Her forehand return was victimized by Garbin's precise serving as Henin-Hardenne converted just four of her 18 break-point chances.
Persistently picking on the Henin-Hardenne forehand like a fighter targeting a welt below an opponent's eye with a jackhammer jab, Garbin forced Henin-Hardenne to try to win with a steady dose of forehands. Clearly lacking confidence in that shot on some of the big points, Henin-Hardenne might have been better serve trying to play more cross-court forehands, but perhaps out of respect for Garbin's forehand, Henin-Hardenne often opted to try to hit the forehand down the line — a lower-percentage shot over the higher part of the net and she paid the price.
Henin-Hardenne's legs kept her close as she ran down several Garbin drop shots and replied with deft drop shots of her own. Her survival skills helped Henin-Hardenne rally to claim four consecutive games as she hit a beautiful backhand pass down the line to hold serve for a 4-2 second set lead.
At that point, it appeared the holder of three of the four major titles would craft another clay-court comeback. Garbin had other ideas. She held serve then benefited from that critical double fault to break for 4-4.
In the ninth game, Garbin's serve, which she cites as her strongest shot, was again a key stroke of success. When a Henin-Hardenne forehand flew long, Garbin took a 30-5 lead and closed out the game when Henin-Hardenne failed to put successive serves back in play.
Serving to stay in the match, the blonde Belgian's forehand failed her under pressure when she whipped a wild inside-out forehand well wide, hit a forehand down the line wide to trail 5-30 then netted her 10th double-fault to face double-match point.
The defending champion fought off both match points but then missed another forehand that landed nearly four feet beyond the baseline to face her third match point. This time, Garbin took command. Luring her opponent toward the net with a short shot, Garbin blasted a backhand pass down the line that froze Henin-Hardenne. As soon as the ball landed in the corner, Garbin dropped to her knees and pumped her fist in triumph. Garbin will play China's Jie Zheng for a spot in the fourth round. Zheng upset 31st-seeded French woman Emilie Loit, 6-4, 6-1.
The early exit of the top seed mean's third-seeded French woman Amelie Mauresmo, who beat Anabel Medina Garrigues, 6-0, 4-6, 6-1, and fifth-seeded Lindsay Davenport are the highest remaining seeds in the top half of the draw