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QueenO
Apr 16th, 2002, 04:25 AM
Williams remains a champion, Henin continues a champion-in-waiting


By Sandra Harwitt
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Susan Mullane
Camerawork USA, Inc.
FROM THE BAUSCH & LOMB CHAMPIONSHIPS – The one thing that came across loud and clear about Venus Williams and Justine Henin after their final encounter at the Bausch & Lomb Championships is that suspicions about both players still ring true.

The lowdown on Williams is that she is the best player in the world when she wants to be. If Williams has winning on her mind, then it doesn’t seem to matter whether she’s playing badly, she’ll find a way to reign victorious.

As for Henin, the superbly talented Belgian with the best backhand in the business has yet to come to the realization she is a top player. Solidly, in the Top 10 for nearly a year since reaching the semifinals of the French Open and finals of Wimbledon last year, Henin still has a defense mechanism that prevents her from seeing herself as the player she can be.

So how did the Amelia Island result – Williams won 2-6 7-5 7-6 (7-5) – prove the above theories?

HENIN CAN'T CLOST IT OUT ... TWICE
The second-seeded Henin was all but in the winner’s circle, holding an impressive 6-2, 4-0, 15-40 lead with Williams serving. Instead of taking advantage of those two break points to go ahead 5-0 and be serving for the match, Henin let the top-seeded Williams hold serve and start to believe she could walk away with the win.
On top of that, Henin served for the match at 5-4 in the second set as well as in the third set, but could not get the task at hand completed. In the final set tiebreaker, Henin resisted losing for four match points from 6-1, but could not keep a fifth at bay.

“I thought I was going down,” said Williams, who earned $93,000 for the victory. “I don’t know how I stayed out there because she was playing well. Even when I was getting tired, I just tried to keep my legs going.”

Deep down, Williams shouldn’t have been so surprised that she came through this match unscathed. Despite the 60 unforced errors she executed and having her serve broken eight times in 20 opportunities, she should know when she is determined to do something, these days she succeeds. When Williams arrived at Amelia Island she revealed that her aim was to win the Bausch & Lomb Championships as a stepping-stone to winning the French Open and she lived up to her word, at least as far as step one.

Henin, on the other-hand, once again watched a match that belonged to her fade away as she didn’t have the nerves of steel required to close out the match.
The last time we watched Henin set up a situation in her own favor was in the semifinal of the French Open last year. At the time, Henin led countrywoman Kim Clijsters by a set and 4-2, but ended up on the losing side of the match.
After Williams scored her fifth career victory in six matches played against Henin – three were in finals this year with the decisions going to the American – the Belgian didn’t have the type of reaction most would expect or hope she’d have in defeat.

SEEMINGLY PLEASED WITH DEFEAT




Susan Mullane
Camerawork USA, Inc.


She wasn’t miserable or upset at letting the match go. Instead she was cheery and happy to have had Williams on the edge. That might be a satisfactory response for some players, but not one with the abilities that Henin possesses. And let us not forget that Henin was good enough to face Williams across the net in the Wimbledon final last year, although not good enough to beat Williams on a slippery surface like grass.

“I was playing so well,” said Henin, of her most recent encounter against Williams. “I never have played this well like today. I didn’t make any mistakes until 6-2, 4-0. Right then, I thought, ‘Okay, maybe I can finish the match. But she’s a great champion and I took the No. 2 player in the world to a third set tiebreaker.”

There’s no denying that Williams doesn’t look as comfortable on the clay as she does on hardcourts or grass, so a victory at Roland Garros could be an arduous task for the mighty American. But if she’s made up her mind that the title is going to belong to her in 2002, fans can expect that she’ll stay knee-deep in the dirt.
As for Henin, fans can only hope that she starts to believe in herself and what she is capable of doing. As long as she seems content to accept losses, she will be holding herself back from what her true destiny could really be