Dementieva vs. Henin-Hardenne in Final Showdown
CHARLESTON, S.C. - Former world No.1 Justine Henin-Hardenne attempts to complete her comeback from illness and injury on Sunday at the $1.3 million Family Circle Cup in Charleston, South Carolina, as she takes on world No.5 Elena Dementieva in the championship match at the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Tier I event.
In Saturday's first semifinal, the unseeded Henin-Hardenne held off No.13 seed Tatiana Golovin of France 76(4) 75. In her only previous appearance at the event, Henin-Hardenne won the title in 2003, defeating then-No.1 Serena Williams in straight sets for the title.
"It's great to feel this again," she said. "It's been a very hard time, and I'll have to keep going. It's only one step, but a very important step."
After trading breaks at the outset of the match, the two put on a serving display, holding serve until 5-5. After another pair of breaks, the Belgian raced out to a 4-1 lead in the tie-break, eventually closing it out on her second set point.
Undiscouraged, the 17-year-old Golovin came out on fire in the second set, breaking for a 2-0 lead. Henin-Hardenne answered that by breaking twice en route to four straight games, but the Frenchwoman broke right back to even up the set at 4-4. The two women held onto their serves again until the 12th game, when the Belgian broke one last time to close out the match.
"I just tried all the time, just stayed focused in the match on every point," said Henin-Hardenne, a three-time Grand Slam champion. "On the important points I played so aggressive. It was very important for me to win the close games. That's what I did and it helped me to win the match."
Golovin, who was making her Tier I semifinal debut, had notched her third career Top 10 win earlier in the week with a third round victory over 8th-ranked defending champion Venus Williams, the No.4 seed at the event. She followed that up with a quarterfinal win over 12th-ranked Nadia Petrova, the No.7 seed.
"It's always tough after a match when you lose, but overall I've had such a great week," said the Frenchwoman. "I haven't played against players like Justine much... this is a new experience for me."
"I've got to learn from it because in order for me to win the French Open, I'm going to have to go through players like this, who play with spin on clay and are so difficult to beat."
In the day's second semifinal, second-seeded Moscovite Elena Dementieva blasted 39 winners and blitzed eighth-seeded Patty Schnyder of Switzerland in the third set of a 36 64 60 victory to reach her first final at Charleston. It was a rematch of last year's round of 16 encounter, won routinely by Schnyder.
Schnyder took an early 4-1 lead in the match, holding on to capture the first set 6-3. Dementieva fought back, winning the next three games and eventually clinching the second set by a score of 6-4. The Russian, a 2004 Roland Garros and US Open finalist, kept the momentum going, routing her left-handed opponent in the third set to secure a spot in her fourth career Tier I final.
"when we play against each other, it's always a fight," said Dementieva, who had lost to Schnyder at the Australian Open in January after leading by a set and two breaks. "When it was 4-0 in the third set today, I started thinking a little bit about what happened in Australia, and I was like, not this time, you're going to finish this match no matter what. I think she just give up in the third set. She was so close and she was doing everything right, and she didn't expect me to come back this time."
"No matter what's going on during a match, I just hope for the best. I keep fighting, trying to be very positive. I like when it's close."
"At the end she was really better," said Schnyder after the loss. "I tried to stick with her, I tried to get on the board, but she was too good. She was hitting winners, running, getting my shots and covering the court very well. Her performance was extraordinary at the end. She's a Top 10 player and a champion, so that's the way she can play."
After a spectacular start to 2004, winning four events including the Australian Open, Henin-Hardenne was forced to take time off to battle cytomegalovirus. After making a brief return late in the summer, winning the gold medal at the Athens Olympics and reaching the fourth round at the US Open, she withdrew from the rest of the season to continue her recuperation. In late December, she suffered a right knee injury during practice, delaying her comeback until the NASDAQ-100 Open in March, where she made it all the way to the quarterfinals before losing to eventual finalist Maria Sharapova in three sets.
Playing in just her second tournament of 2005 at Charleston, the 43rd-ranked Henin-Hardenne has battled through a tough draw to reach her second final in as many appearances at the event. She outlasted No.10 seed Jelena Jankovic 57 64 63 in the first round and 48th-ranked Shuai Peng 62 46 64 in the second round, then defeated world No.50 Iveta Benesova 62 63 to reach the quarterfinals, where she advanced when world No.1 and top seed Lindsay Davenport retired down 36 63 10 with a hip injury.
Dementieva has had a strong start to 2005, reaching the semifinals at Sydney and Indian Wells, and the quarterfinals at Tokyo and Miami. After withdrawing from Amelia Island due to a hip injury, the Russian has made an impressive start to the claycourt season at Charleston. After a first round bye, she defeated 57th-ranked compatriot Alina Jidkova 64 64 in the second round and 63rd-ranked Nuria Llagostera Vives 60 63 in the third round. In the quarterfinals, she outlasted 53rd-ranked Katarina Srebotnik 63 57 64.
Henin-Hardenne and Dementieva have played seven times previously, with the Belgian holding a 6-1 head-to-head lead. Henin-Hardenne won their first three meetings in straight sets, all of which were in 2002. In their next meeting, the only one thus far on clay, Dementieva overcame a large third set deficit and a match point in the semifinals at Amelia Island in 2003, winning 36 64 75. Henin-Hardenne then won their next three meetings, all held later in 2003, the most recent of which was a 75 60 victory in the quarterfinals at Filderstadt.
"She's hitting the ball so hard," said Henin-Hardenne on Dementieva. "She's very solid at the baseline. I'll have to play aggressive. I'll have to go to the net a little bit more and just play my game."
"It's going to be a great experience to play tomorrow against her," said Dementieva on playing Henin-Hardenne for the title. "I think it's nice to see her coming back. She's in good shape and for me to play against her, that's a great challenge."
"I just lost to Kim twice in a row, and I was like so happy not to see her playing this tournament, but there is another Belgian here."