Happy Henin-Hardenne Confident On Clay
Happy Henin-Hardenne Confident On Clay
By Richard Pagliaro
Married life is helping Justine Henin-Hardenne become successful on the singles scene. Clad in her new adidas apparel, the defending German Open champion downed Daja Bedanova 6-4, 6-1 to cruise into the third round of the $1.2 million Berlin event.
"I didn't play my best tennis but I played quite well and I'm satisfied," said Henin-Hardenne. "The first match in a tournament is always tough because you don't know what to expect but it's good to be back here."
Though her marriage to longtime boyfriend Pierre-Yves Hardenne was on November 16th, Henin-Hardenne remains a beaming bride who sounds downright delighted with life on and off the court."
"My marriage changes a lot of things in my life," Henin-Hardenne said. "I feel more confident and so happy to have a family now."
The marriage produced another profound partnership as Hardenne took over as his wife's new manager last week.
The fourth-ranked Henin-Hardenne has played with the confidence and composure that could elude her in meaningful moments in the past.
"I'm feeling much better mentally," Henin-Hardenne said. "I know what I want and I just want to be focused on my goal. I try to stay focused and forget the pressure, sometimes it's hard, but I have to deal with that and I do it much better now."
In recent years, Henin-Hardenne has been known as a beautifully skilled player who could be both a wonder to watch and a vulnerable to complete collapses in confidence.
Henin-Hardenne fans are all too familiar with the mental meltdowns that enable victory to elude her. At the 2001 French Open, Henin-Hardenne held a 6-2, 4-2 lead over compatriot Kim Clijsters and was points away from securing a spot in her first Grand Slam final only to lose the lead and the match. Last year, Henin-Hardenne was humbling Venus Williams 6-2, 4-0, 40-15 in the Amelia Island final and was two points from victory three times before blowing the match 2-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7-5).
It was a troubling trend exacerbated by the fact that the 5-foot-5 Belgian put so much of her heart into her play only to cause heartburn in her avid fans who watched the 2001 Wimbledon runner-up struggle to close out meaningful matches.
This season, Henin-Hardenne has found closure on the court. She showed toughness and tenacity in outlasting Lindsay Davenport, 7-5, 5-7, 9-7 at the Australian Open where she reached the semis before falling to Venus Williams.
She followed that performance with an excellent effort at the Dubai Duty Free Open. The Belgian's big-point brilliance saw her extinguish a match point to edge Monica Seles 4-6, 7-6, 7-5 and earn her seventh career championship. The victory came a day after Henin-Hardenne outlasted third-seeded Jennifer Capriati 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 in a two-hour, 25-minute baseline battle.
Last month, Henin-Hardenne brought out her best against the best player in the world in Charleston. Trailing 0-3 in the first set of the Family Circle Cup final, Henin-Hardenne arose from the courtside couch, tossed her towel down and proceeded to produce some spectacular tennis to score a 6-3, 6-4 victory and snap Serena Williams' 21-match winning streak.
It was the second significant victory she scored over Serena on clay. A year ago, Henin-Hardenne crafted a 6-2, 1-6, 7-6(5) victory over Serena in the German Open final. Neither Williams sister is in Berlin this week leaving a potential championship clash between compatriots Clijsters and Henin-Hardenne as a possible tournament climax.
"Concerning Kim, it's true it's always special playing her, but I think I'm feeling strong enough to beat any of the top players," Henin-Hardenne said. "I'm used to it."
Her new clothing contract with adidas means Henin-Hardenne is now clad in the same brand as Internet Icon and calendar girl Anna Kournikova. But the similarities stop there. Henin-Hardenne, who first burst onto the TV screens of many American fans at the 2000 U.S. Open when she decisively dismissed the 12th-seeded Kournikova in the third round, is the anti-Anna in both playing style and lifestyle.
While Henin-Hardenne may lack glitz off court her game is glaringly glamorous with a beautiful one-handed backhand that is the tennis equivalent of a Swiss army knife: a multi-purpose tool she can slice, spin or simply use to dissect the court. She packs potent power for her size, owns a surprisingly strong serve, is a capable volleyer and covers the court quickly. She has the vast variety in her game that can create problems for the baseline blasters by alternating the spins and speeds on her shots and playing sharp angles to open up the court.
Henin-Hardenne hopes to sustain her success and carry the momentum into Roland Garros, which starts on May 26th.
"I can be powerful when I want," Henin-Hardenne said. "l work pretty hard physically and (the power) is the result of hard work. I'm pretty happy I won my first match. It's good preparation for the French Open. I always have many things to learn. I'm still very young, but I agree it has to come from me."