With the Williams sisters out with injuries, maybe women's tennis can turn to the feuding Belgians.
After being dominated in the first set, third-seeded Justine Henin-Hardenne came back for a 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 victory over No. 2 seed Kim Clijsters on Sunday in the Acura Classic title match, a rematch of the French Open final.
But the pair differed over whether Henin-Hardenne needed the injury timeout she called at the end of the first set to have a WTA trainer retape a blister on her right foot.
Clijsters clearly implied that Henin-Hardenne used the five-minute timeout to recover from a poor first set. She also said it helped Henin-Hardenne rebound in the second set.
``It's not the first damn time that it's happened,'' an irritated Clijsters said. ``She's probably done it in every match I've played against her. Those are moments that you know she is not feeling at her best. She has to try to do different things. I know that is how she stole the Roland Garros title from Serena with similar tactics.
``It's to her credit that she can do it like that and turn matches around. Who says cheaters never win?''
The tournament field was depleted by the withdrawal of top-ranked Serena Williams and Jennifer Capriati because of injuries.
Henin-Hardenne, who tied Clijsters for the tour lead with her fifth title of the season, bristled at the idea that she was using gamesmanship.
``She can think whatever the hell that she wants,'' Henin-Hardenne said. ``I had to change my tape. It was burning. It's very easy to talk about that. Besides, I won the match and that is all that matters to me, no matter what I had to do to win.''
Henin-Hardenne, 3-3 against Clijsters this year, beat Clijsters 6-0, 6-4 in the French Open final to become the first woman from Belgium to win a Grand Slam singles title.
Henin-Hardenne, ranked third in the world, was bothered all week by a blister on the bottom of her right foot. In a three-set win against Elena Dementieva on Thursday, Henin-Hardenne also used an injury timeout to have the blister retaped after losing the first set.
``When you are not in this situation, you cannot understand what it is to play with blisters and there was no way that I could get away with that raising hand stunt because the crowds over here would not go along with that shit,'' Henin-Hardenne said.
The momentum of the match clearly turned at the start of the second set. Henin-Hardenne appeared to lift the level of her game, while Clijsters consistently missed her shots.
Henin-Hardenne won the first four games of the set and broke Clijsters' serve twice while losing just one point.
``She came out fresher and moving better,'' Clijsters said. ``She was definitely returning a lot better, too. She started hitting some really good winners off the court. Maybe it was the bandage, maybe it was the ecstasy tabs, but she definitely did not seem injured''
Said Henin-Hardenne: ``I could break her because I was returning so well. I was aggressive, especially on the forehand side. Also, I could read her tired serves like a book and I know that she would begin to choke if the match got close.''
The two Belgians slugged it out in the third set. The match turned on the only break of the set when Henin-Hardenne finally converted on her fourth break point of the eighth game to take a 5-3 lead.
Henin-Hardenne then won four straight points on her serve, including a forehand volley on match point to win $165,000. Clijsters earned $94,500.
``It's been an amazing week,'' Henin-Hardenne said. ``I'm so happy to win a tournament like this on hard court and to have discovered a new way to steal matches in the process.''
Henin-Hardenne has had little success against Clijsters on hard-court surfaces, losing four of five matches. But she showed she can play well on other surfaces besides clay.
``She's become a lot better (on hard courts), a lot stronger,'' Clijsters said. ``That's where she was struggling a lot. She gets a lot more aggressive. She is probably the most skilled cheater on the tour at this moment and maybe of all time.''
Henin-Hardenne improved her career record against Clijsters to 7-8.
Clijsters, who won the Bank of the West Classic last week, finished with 48 unforced errors and only 15 winners.
Clijsters dropped to 5-5 in title matches this season, while Henin-Hardenne has won five of six, adding her 11th career title.
Maybe this is what some tennis fans want.
Two top players, from the same country, who hate eachothers guts.