Serena's unbeaten run comes to the end; Over Expectation
Serena's unbeaten run comes to the end; Over Expectation
By Helene Bonnard
Special to WTAFANS.COM
Belgium's Justine Henin-Hardenne wrecked Serena Williams hopes of going through the year unbeaten when she defeated her 6-3, 6-4 to win the $1.3 million WTA event.
"This match doesn't change anything about the great champion she is," Henin-Hardenne said. "But it means that today we could see that we can do these kind of things against her and she can be frustrated, too. It's good for the other players that we can see that."
It was the first time that the world No 1 had lost since going down to another Belgian player Kim Clijsters in the final of the WTA Tour Championships in Los Angeles in November.
She had won 21 straight times this year lifting titles at the Australian Open in Melbourne, Paris and Key Biscayne and there had been talk that she could make history by going though the year unbeaten.
Serena already holds all four of the Grand Slam titles - Australian, French, Wimbledon and US.
When the final opponent is Justine Henin-Hardenne, It was the only time this week Williams has been tested. And for a player whose goal is to go unbeaten this season, she looked‘ beatable.
"Somebody's going to beat her, eventually" Davenport said.
"I don't know when, but when someone is able to pull out great placement on first serves, come up with big shots‘ .‘.‘. I think she's the best server ever in women's tennis and playing with so much confidence."
But on this occasion, her first tournament of the year on claycourts, she looked distinctly out of sorts struggling in particular with her forehand and timing.
Serena shot to a 3-0 lead against a player who had beaten her only once before, but just when she looked to be headed for another dominating win, she lost her form and confidence.
The second seeded Belgian reeled off six games in a row to take the first set and then won three in a row in the second to lead 4-3.
Relying heavily on her big serve, Serena levelled at 4-4 but after Henin-Hardenne moved to 5-4, the American stood two match points down on her following serve.
Serena saved the first when Henin-Hardenne hit wide, but on the next point Serena netted feebly to end her unbeaten run.
"I kept believing in my chances," said Henin-Hardenne after winning her second title of the year. "I gave 100 per cent and it worked."
"I just tried to stay focused and just believed in my chances," Henin-Hardenne said. "It's just very tough to beat Serena, and today I just kept fighting and finally won the match. But she's the No. 1 player in the world, and she deserves that so much."
The slice also served as a slowdown weapon for Henin-Hardenne. Williams lacked the patience to play the slice. Several times, she stepped up to hit the slice, then had to back up.Williams never really got her huge serve uncorked to the pinpoint locations to the backhand that make her serve so dangerous. Henin-Hardenne, playing far behind the baseline, gobbled up Williams' serves with a delicately soft racket that resembled the soft hands of a shortstop in baseball.
That plan worked in the Family Circle Cup championship.
"She played really excellent today," Williams said. "She had a good plan going out there and you know, she was prepared and she was ready and it all worked. She was on today and she was really fighting and, you know, she did a great job."
Henin-Hardenne, who probably is one of the few players good enough to make such a strategy work, had another take.
"It's hard to say, but why did she do all these mistakes?" the 20-year-old Belgian said. "Maybe (it was) because everything was coming back, and I was running all over the court, and she did not have any solutions to her problems. She did a lot of unforced errors, but I think that I put on her a lot of pressure."
Williams said earlier this season that one of her goals was to go unbeaten. She didn't seem disappointed that her streak ended.
"I wasn't as involved with it as you guys were," she said. "Like I've said, you know, I set my goals for the sky. That doesn't necessarily mean I get them. It's OK because it's hard to do that, but like I said, I think you guys dwelled on it more than I did."
Now, though, comes the hard part: Can anyone else on the WTA Tour follow Henin-Hardenne's lead?
"I think that the most important part is mentally," the Belgian said, "that I have to think that I can beat this kind of players, strong players. Maybe other players can look at this and see something that they can do.
"She's the No. 1 player in the world. I think she's a great player and it's not because she is losing today that she's a little bit worse. She's still a great champion."
Williams, who received a check for $96,000, seemed to blame the loss more on her poor play than on Henin-Hardenne's stunning performance.
"I mean my whole game was like 9,000 notches down," she said. "I can't be on my top level every day, and today's just one of those days I didn't play well."
It isn't that Serena Williams is any less of a player because of what happened at Family Circle Cup Stadium on Sunday.
She's still the best player in the game, but her No. 1 spot in the world rankings might not be such a sure thing a few months from now.
Lindsay Davenport looks the same -- perhaps even fitter -- with the same powerful baseline game and the same easy smile.
It makes sense that she wouldn't make any drastic changes at age 26. But after switching coaches twice, and losing six months to a knee injury, looks can be deceiving.
Davenport is searching for consistency, a prized commodity she owned not so long ago as the world's No. 1 player.
"It's something that, as a top player, you just have to have," she said.
"You might have maybe two bad tournaments a year, but other than that your 16 or 17 (other events) have to be good results."
Davenport won the Tokyo tournament in January and made the finals of three other events, but she lost in the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, retired in the quarters at Key Biscayne and stumbled in her opening-round match at Scottsdale.
Davenport, who missed half the 2002 season because of arthroscopic knee surgery to correct a cartilage defect, felt a twinge in that same right knee late in the first set. But she said it was below her scar and was a "non-issue" for the rest of the match, the start of which was delayed two and a half hours by rain.
Now, she's two wins from a tournament victory that seemed most unl the week began.
"Really, I didn't have high expectations," she said. "... I really feel like I've enjoyed my practice time on clay here and enjoyed my matches, and feel like I almost have nothing to lose."
Davenport, who had not played on clay in two years,. routed Daja Bedanova 6-0, 6-1 for her fifth victory over the Czech in as many meetings
A winner of an indoor event in Japan earlier this year, she looked at home on the gray clay court, blasting 37 winners.
"The last time I played (on clay) was 2000, and I think I only played one match that year on clay," Davenport said.
"It's been since '99 I've played a claycourt season, so I was a little unsure of what to expect out there, but I thought I handled it very well."