Justine a Mental and Physical Rock
Justine a Mental and Physical Rock
By Matthew Cronin in CARLSBAD
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Should Kim Clijsters stop playing doubles? Maybe not, considering that with she and Ai Sugiyama’s final round victory at the $1 million Acura Classic over Lindsay Davenport and Lisa Raymond, she became the world’s No. 1 ranked doubles player.
Maybe so, because after she fell 3-6 6-2 6-3 in the singles final to third-ranked Justine Henin-Hardenne, Clijsters said that the combo of singles and doubles pooped her out on the last two sets.
"I ran out of gas in the second and third. I was a little tired," said Clijsters, who won the singles title last week at Stanford. "I wasn’t the freshest in my mind, wasn’t clear enough to go all the way. It’s a challenge to dig deeper, but you feel as if you are at the bottom and you can’t go any lower. In tennis, you have to try go over your limits, but it’s a sport where you have to stand behind the ball in the right position and hit it clean. Once your body isn’t there completely, those things will fade away a little and it makes a difference in these matches."
Clijsters now has to reach at least the final of Carson this week to become No. 1 in singles and even that might not be good enough if a lot of seeded players fall out of the draw.
But all the credit in this contest should go to Henin-Hardenne, who’s the fittest 5-foot-6 and under player the tour has ever seen. She’s cracking her first serve, running like a Tasmanian devil, murdering her forehand return and off the ground and flattening out her backhand like she’s crushing a hard line drive toward the gap.
"She’s become a lot better and stronger," said Clijsters. "Last year she was struggling with that and when you hit a strong ball she had a hard time keeping up with it. Now she goes for a lot of her shots. That’s where she’s made the biggest change in her tennis."
Henin entered the contest with a 6-8 record against Clijsters lifetime and had only beaten her once on hard courts in five attempts, but at the Acura, she was the far more authoritative player in the last two sets. She knew that Clijsters was pooped out in the third set and instead of just playing healthy defense she went into a high-wire act on offense, devastating Clijsters second serves.
"I was better defensively," Henin-Hardenne said. "She’s so strong and has a great defense but I had great defense, too. I’m so quick , more powerful and can play long rallies. I worked so hard and I’m really proud of that."
Henin has also made tremendous progress mentally. Last year, she might have melted in San Diego County, a environment she is not familiar with. She very much a European and hasn’t always felt at home in the pressure cooker of the U.S., but this week – even though her coach, Carlos Rodriguez was at home waiting for the birth of he and his wife’s child -- Henin stood strong and thought well. She was without Rodriguez for the first time in seven years but with husband Pierre-Yves and trainer Pat Etcheberry around, she felt somewhat at home at the posh La Costa Resort. Especially with herself.
"I’m more mature and comfortable," she said. "For seven years, Carlos said you have the possibilities to be No.1 someday and I didn’t believe him because I didn’t have confidence in myself. Now I have confidence in myself because he told me every day I could win Grand Slams and be No. 1. He was right for the Grand Slams, now I’m hoping he’s right for No. 1."
Third-ranked Henin-Hardenne certainly has a No. 1 attitude. If someone calls her out, like Clijsters did on Sunday when she suggested after the defeat that an injury timeout that Henin-Hardenne took between the first and second sets to treat a blister may have been more a mental timeout to regroup, Justine stands up for herself.
"I'm sort of getting used to it," said Clijsters. "She's done it in every match I've played against her. It's a matter of knowing if she's doing it for an injury or another reason. It didn't look like it was hurting because she was still running.
"She’s disappointed that she lost today, that the only reason she’s saying this. I don’t know why all the players are talking about the incidents in my matches because I think I’m a fair player. She said it because she lost the match. I totally understand it. Today I just had to change the tape because the blister was burning. It had nothing to do with the mental part of the match."
Henin-Hardenne rightly noted that she’s in the other elite player’s heads. There’s no doubt that she’s gotten to Clijsters and the injured Serena knows she will stand toe to toe with her. She’s never had much success against Venus, but should they play at the U.S. Open, expect her to pound her chest.
"I think all these players don’t like that I’m not so strong and tall and am not the same looking players as them," Henin said. "They don’t like to see me running all over the court and having power, too. Mentally, it’s hard for them to compete against me