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post #1 of 3 (permalink) Old Jun 1st, 2003, 07:57 AM Thread Starter
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Henin-Hardenne: Big hitters come in small packages

Henin-Hardenne: Big hitters come in small packages

By Eleanor Preston
Special to ********************

Susan Mullane/Camerawork USA, Inc.
FROM ROLAND GARROS – Good things come in small packages, and though we live in an era of Amazonian power hitters, sometimes that goes for tennis players too.

Little Justine Henin-Hardenne stands only 5-foot-5 in her stocking feet and despite the fact that she has put on three kilograms (about seven pounds) since the end of last year, there is still precious little meat on her bones.

According to her friend and Belgium rival Kim Clijsters, Henin-Hardenne may be tiny by the standards of her contemporaries, but she still packs a wallop in her shots. "You'd be surprised how hard she can hit the ball. She's such a little girl but she's strong and her serve has improved a lot in these last few months," Clijsters said.

Clijsters knows that as small as Justine is, no one in their right mind would mess with her, either on the court or off it.
Henin-Hardenne is through to the fourth round at Roland Garros, and so far she has barely been tested, thundering through her early matches as though on a demolition derby. 'Bang', went Patricia Wartusch in the first round, 'crash' went Jelena Kostanic in the second, and 'wallop' went Dally Randriantefy in the third.

"I think it's getting better, match after match," said Henin-Hardenne, peeking out from under her ever-present baseball cap. "I'm feeling much more confident and it's good that physically I had a good match today. That gives me more chances for the future of the tournament."

The fact that she is already thinking ahead to the latter stages of the event speaks volumes for her ambition here at Roland Garros. Having reached one Grand Slam final ('01 Wimbledon), three semifinals (at the French Open and Wimbledon last year and the Australian Open this year), she knows what it takes to excel at major tournaments. She also knows it's about time she won one.

Her next match against Patty Schnyder should be little more than a mildly stiffer work out than she has had so far. Beyond that Serena Williams is her scheduled semi-final opponent and, given that she is one of only two people (together with Amelie Mauresmo) to have beaten Serena this year, even that may not be the terrifying obstacle it once was.

Susan Mullane/
Camerawork USA, Inc.
The journalist who dared ask Justine about Williams got short shrift and was dispatched with the venom she usually reserves for one of her demonic backhand crosscourt drives. "I don't want to talk about that," she said, putting him firmly in his place. She is sticking to the "one match at a time" mantra like glue.

"I'm in the fourth round and it's difficult enough to think about that, without worrying about other players. I'll just try to prepare for my match and be ready for Sunday. My first goal was still being in the tournament on Sunday. Now I have a chance to go to the quarters."

Justine is one of the most thrilling players in the Top 10, if not in the women's game, period. Her idol was Steffi Graf and it's not hard to see the influence of the 22-time Grand Slam champion in Henin-Hardenne. Watching the Belgian, Graf is there in the constant movement, the scurrying, and in the unrelenting aggression. What would Graf have given for that topspin backhand though?

Like Graf, Henin-Hardenne is just as capable of winning at Wimbledon as she is at Roland Garros, but there is no doubt that the French Open has a special place in Henin-Hardenne's heart. As a child she came to watch at Roland Garros with her mother, and dreamed of playing there. When her mother died (when Henin-Hardenne was 12), she made the dream into a promise. Fortunately, her mother never got see Roland Garros in 2001, when Justine choked a tremendous lead against Clijsters in the semis.

Of course Henin-Hardenne is a much more mature person and player today, but she’s still too prosaic a soul to indulge in mawkishness about things past.

Indeed, she wastes little time on sentimentality of any kind, as witnessed by a jolly and rather innocuous question, mentioning the fact that Sunday is Henin-Hardenne's 21st birthday. Henin-Hardenne looked at her questioner as though he had two heads. "I'm not thinking about my birthday," she said incredulously. "I'm thinking about my next match. My birthday is a day like any other one and my objective, never mind whether I'm 20 or 21, is to win the match."
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post #3 of 3 (permalink) Old Jun 1st, 2003, 10:10 AM
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