SI: Henin-Hardenne Tries To Win Third French In Four Years
Henin-Hardenne tries to win third French in four years
Posted: Friday June 9, 2006 3:27PM; Updated: Friday June 9, 2006 3:27PM
PARIS (AP) -- Finally fit, Justine Henin-Hardenne is back to quietly putting herself in some pretty impressive company.
If she can beat Svetlana Kuznetsova in the French Open final Saturday, Henin-Hardenne will collect her third title in four years at Roland Garros, something last accomplished by Steffi Graf in 1993-96.
That also would give Henin-Hardenne a total of five Grand Slam titles, matching Venus Williams and Martina Hingis.
"I'm trying to avoid thinking too much about that. But obviously, it's in the back of my mind," said Henin-Hardenne, trying to become the first woman since Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in 1994 to win the French Open without dropping a set.
"I know I've already done quite a lot in my career, and I have the possibility of winning an extra great Grand Slam tournament, but I don't want to think too much about that. I need to be focused on myself, on what I should do, on my preparation to be at the really best level tomorrow."
Only 24, the Belgian spoke this week about playing another five years, and tailoring her training to allow her to recover quickly after tough matches.
In addition to her success at Roland Garros, Henin-Hardenne won the 2003 U.S. Open and 2004 Australian Open. The only Grand Slam tournament she hasn't won is Wimbledon, though she did reach the final there in 2001, losing to Williams.
The biggest impediment for Henin-Hardenne in recent years has been her health. She missed months at a time in 2004 and 2005 because of an energy-sapping blood virus and assorted injuries, including to her knee and back.
"If I want to last," the fifth-seeded Henin-Hardenne said, "I have to take care of myself."
She didn't have the greatest experience in her most recent major final, against Amelie Mauresmo at the Australian Open in January. Henin-Hardenne quit because of an upset stomach brought on by medicine she was taking for a right shoulder injury.
Asked Friday about that disappointment, Henin-Hardenne said: "I think I have digested that -- wrong choice of word, by the way. But hard to swallow, I'll put it that way. No, that's not a good word either. Well, let's talk about something else."
At 5-foot-6 and 125 pounds, she doesn't produce the power that plenty of her peers do. But her backhand is as pretty as they come, and like Kuznetsova, she's superb at retrieving shots behind the baseline.
Kuznetsova called Henin-Hardenne "the toughest player to play on clay."
There's plenty of evidence to suggest the Belgian will win, but she's taking a cautious approach.
"I do not own Roland Garros. I love coming here. I love playing here. I've had a lot of success here at the French Open," Henin-Hardenne said. "But each match is different. ... I cannot say that I will necessarily win."
Henin-Hardenne has won 10 of 11 career meetings against Kuznetsova, including all three this year and all three on clay.
They played in the fourth round of last year's French Open, when Kuznetsova held two match points at 5-3 in the third set before losing. Henin-Hardenne didn't mince words afterward, saying she could see in Kuznetsova's eyes "she was afraid to win."
Kuznetsova has been working with a psychologist to help steel her on court, and she came back from a set and a break down to win her semifinal against Nicole Vaidisova.
Part of Kuznetsova's difficulty came from trying to figure out why she had poor results in the aftermath of her 2004 U.S. Open title at age 19.
"It was hard for me because I was working very hard and then success came and then disappointment came after this, and I didn't know how to deal with it. And I was young," she said Friday. "I was low in my mind because I didn't know where to go. I was not like dying, but I was just disappointed, because I was expecting a little bit more."
The eighth-seeded Kuznetsova sounds like she's comfortable in the role of underdog, given her history against Henin-Hardenne _ and the Belgian's past performances in Paris.
"I just want to give a fight. I just want to go out there and do my best," Kuznetsova said. "I know it's going to be tough, very tough opponent. But I have nothing to lose out there. And I guess she's the favorite, no?"