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Sanneriet
Oct 3rd, 2003, 08:03 PM
Henin-Hardenne Looks Forward To Life At The Top


Photo By Cynthia Lum By Richard Pagliaro
10/04/2003

A pending walk down the aisle occupied Justine Henin's mind during the WTA Tour's season-ending event last year. A little more than a month removed from her first wedding anniversary, Henin-Hardenne's wedding march has turned to a methodical march toward the top of tennis and she seems to be enjoying the trip.



In a conference call with the media to promote the WTA Tour's season-ending tournament set for November 5-10th at the STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, Henin-Hardenne discussed several current issues including her quest to succeed compatriot Kim Clijsters as the world's top-ranked player, her recent supremacy over Clijsters in their continued rivalry, how she's overcome her fear factor in playing against the Williams sisters and the impact her U.S. Open victory has had in making her more comfortable playing tournaments in the United States.

Currently ranked second to the top-ranked Clijsters, Henin-Hardenne has been second to none in Grand Slam success this season. The 21-year-old Belgian conquered Clijsters in straight-sets wins in both the Roland Garros and U.S. Open finals, tying her with Australian Open and Wimbledon winner Serena Williams for most majors this year.

Conceding that attaining the No. 1 rank would be the realization of a life-long dream, Henin-Hardenne said she strives to remain practical in her pursuit of the top spot.

"This year, I was focused about winning Grand Slams and I did. And being No. 1, for sure, was a dream when I was young," Henin-Hardenne said. "It could be realistic very soon or maybe no. I have no idea about how things are going to happen in the next few weeks. The only thing I can say is that dreaming about that is not going to happen to achieve that. I have to stay focused and concentrate on what I have to do every day to be No. 1 one day. It would be great if it would happen this year, but itís not the end of the world. I know this season I know how I played. I know what helped me to achieve that and I want to concentrate and that itís much more important. And we will see what happens."

Her victories over Clijsters in their most meaningful matches already make Henin-Hardenne the unofficial No. 1 in the minds of many. Once labeled as a player prone to periods of tight play under pressure after building a 6-2, 4-2 lead only to watch it dissipate as she succumbed to nerves and Clijsters' consistent play in bowing 2-6, 7-5, 6-3 to Clijsters in the 2001 Roland Garros semifinals, Henin-Hardenne has transformed herself into one of the most mentally tough competitors in the top 10. She showed grits and guts in fighting back from a one-set, 3-5 deficit against Jennifer Capriati in the U.S. Open semifinals. Two points from defeat, Henin-Hardenne's stubborn spirit and will to win helped her rally for a 4-6, 7-5, 7-6(4) victory that was undoubtedly one of the highest-quality U.S. Open matches in years.

Adhering to a rigorous training regimen under noted fitness trainer Pat Etcheberry in Saddlebrook sessions that make boot camp look appear as strenuous as prolonged pedicure, Henin-Hardenne honed her 5-foot-5 physique into peak form. She credits her physical strength for pumping up her psyche.

"I know the work I did. I know that physically I worked very hard and that it helps to be (prepared) mentally," Henin-Hardenne said. "I was just feeling comfortable on the court against Kim. I tried to be focused on what I had to do to concentrate all the time on my game. I think it worked pretty well."

Saddlebrook has served a dual purpose in Henin-Hardenne's career. It is both a haven from the pressure and scrutiny she feels in Belgium and a physical factory for training where she manufactures muscle, produces the power and creates the conditioning during the sweat-soaked workouts have helped carry her to the best season of her five-year career.

"I think that I need to go back to Saddlebrook a little bit because itís the only
place where I can practice free of all these pressures," Henin-Hardenne said. "In Belgium, itís not easy. I have a lot of things to do. I will probably go (to Saddlebrook for) the end of November until the beginning of January. So I have a few weeks there. Pat is going to kill me one more time. I know that. But I know that it worked very good for the season and it gives me a lot of motivation to go there because I know there are no secrets, I know I have to work hard because the other players are working hard. Everybody wants the same thing, so you have to work and be professional every day if you want to stay at the top. Iím a little bit nervous because I know itís going to be hard in the next December because I know what I did last year, but I know also I won two Grand Slams this year and it helped me a lot to achieve that so I have to remember this."

In an age where most women in the top 10 tower over her, Henin-Hardenne's shot making skill, speed and tremendous technique have helped her combat the size disparity she faces on a regular basis. Her significant Slam victories may have inspired Henin-Hardenne's most meaningful loss ó she said she's lost her fear of the Williams sisters and welcomes their return to tournament tennis.

"I think they are doing a great job for WTA and we hope to see them again very, very soon. And when they will come back I think they will be stronger than ever," Henin-Hardenne said. "When you have been injured, you always want to win a lot of matches after and you know that both of them are great champions, they have won so many titles. They are very strong. So I know I have to improve my game like I did in the last few months. But I know I still have to work. The thing is, yeah, mentally, I changed my mind and Iím not afraid anymore doesnít mean Iím not going to lose (laughs), that Iím going to win all the time against them. When I go on the court I say, I have a lot of power, too. I know the game I have to play with them and I know sometimes they donít like to play against me, so sometimes it makes a great difference."

In her controversial clash with Serena that escalated into an emotional event for both the players and the crowd, Henin-Hardenne showed survival skills in playing determined defense to subdue her harder-hitting opponent and rally for a 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 victory that snapped Williams' 33-match Grand Slam winning streak. The slow surface allowed her to run down several of the stinging shots emanating from Williams' racquet strings that day. But Henin-Hardenne is well aware that to truly challenge either sister on faster surfaces she needs to serve effectively and attack intelligently rather than trying to trade baseline blasts in a power play that does not suit her style.

"I have to still improve many things in my game. Iíll have to go a little bit to the net for sure," Henin-Hardenne said. "Even if I have got more power this year than last year, Iím not going to beat them on the fast surfaces. In the long run, I totally know that. Itís just that Iím not afraid anymore of the rally, but I know that if I want to put a lot of pressure on them, I have to go to a little bit more to the net. Being a little bit more aggressive. And I know that my serve is the key in my game. I work very hard on this part of my game right now. I know I have to be more consistent with my serve. I think in 2004 thatís what Iím looking for. My serve is going to be more consistent and itís going to help me win easier points."

The two-time Grand Slam champion's poise under pressure won her many American fans during her semifinal showdown with Capriati. The confidence she gained from winning the U.S. Open was a life-altering experience for Henin-Hardenne who said she's grown much more comfortable playing in the country that has become her off season home.

"My victory at the U.S. Open changed a lot of things in my life. Itís not going to be the same anymore," Henin-Hardenne said. "I wasnít very known in the States a year ago and I won the big tournament at the U.S. Open and I like the situation here because we have to play a lot of tournaments in the States. Iím getting more comfortable when Iím playing here. The fact that Iím practicing at Saddlebrook helps me a lot with the mentality and everything. And I really enjoy playing there

The Crow
Oct 3rd, 2003, 08:10 PM
Nice article. Thanks

Hingiswinsthis
Oct 3rd, 2003, 08:15 PM
I already have non-tennis friends who come up to me and ask if i like Justine too cuz she's so fast and hits the ball well. Things have changed, Justine is no longer just a clay courter and a an unknown in the states.....finally the #1 ranking will be well earned by the end of the year hopefully;)

fleemke≥
Oct 3rd, 2003, 08:17 PM
thx for posting it :D

bandabou
Oct 3rd, 2003, 08:44 PM
Nice article....good to see that she has so much confidence. At least sheīs keeping it real: on fast surfaces it will difficult, hell even on slow surfaces it will be difficult to beat the Williamses.

jenny161185
Oct 3rd, 2003, 08:44 PM
Nice article - I know she acknowledges the williams are brilliant on fast surfaces but to say she'll never beat them on one is a bit strange - I thought he'd think she's have a chance on all surfaces - maybe not a big chance but a chance!

Josh
Oct 3rd, 2003, 09:21 PM
Nice article - I know she acknowledges the williams are brilliant on fast surfaces but to say she'll never beat them on one is a bit strange - I thought he'd think she's have a chance on all surfaces - maybe not a big chance but a chance!

She didn't say that, she said she feels confident playing against them on fast surfaces but that doesn't mean she will beat them every time.

Knizzle
Oct 3rd, 2003, 09:28 PM
She didn't say that, she said she feels confident playing against them on fast surfaces but that doesn't mean she will beat them every time.

This is what she said:

I'm not going to beat them on the fast surfaces. In the long run, I totally know that. Itís just that Iím not afraid anymore of the rally, but I know that if I want to put a lot of pressure on them, I have to go to a little bit more to the net. Being a little bit more aggressive. And I know that my serve is the key in my game. I work very hard on this part of my game right now. I know I have to be more consistent with my serve. I think in 2004 thatís what Iím looking for. My serve is going to be more consistent and itís going to help me win easier points."

Josh
Oct 3rd, 2003, 09:32 PM
This is what she said:

She's not going to beat them with power from the baseline, hence whu she needs to go to the net a bit more to mix it up. That's what she meant.

You conveniently left out the part that is important :

But Henin-Hardenne is well aware that to truly challenge either sister on faster surfaces she needs to serve effectively and attack intelligently rather than trying to trade baseline blasts in a power play that does not suit her style.

"I have to still improve many things in my game. Iíll have to go a little bit to the net for sure," Henin-Hardenne said. "Even if I have got more power this year than last year, Iím not going to beat them on the fast surfaces.

Knizzle
Oct 3rd, 2003, 09:38 PM
It's about time Juju figured out that if she wants to beat the sisters she has to attack the net ALOT more and get more free points with her serve.

Knizzle
Oct 3rd, 2003, 09:40 PM
She's not going to beat them with power from the baseline, hence whu she needs to go to the net a bit more to mix it up. That's what she meant.

You conveniently left out the part that is important :

I was just saying that's why Jenny said that. I wasn't conveniently leaving anything out. Look at the post I posted above this before I even saw the post I am replying to now. I comment on that exact quote so I wasn't leaving anything out.

Daniel
Oct 3rd, 2003, 09:44 PM
Thanks. Nice article

Knizzle
Oct 3rd, 2003, 09:45 PM
I wonder why Juju just doesn't move to the United States and still play for Belgium since she feels so much pressure while in Belgium. Hey she could practice against the Williams sisters down in Florida. LOL!!

bandabou
Oct 3rd, 2003, 09:50 PM
It should be interesting to see how Jujuīs gonna play the sisters on a fast court now that sheīs improved.

drapero
Oct 3rd, 2003, 10:03 PM
It should be interesting to see how Jujuīs gonna play the sisters on a fast court now that sheīs improved.


Juju ??? Interesting on a fast court ??? She's improved ???

Bandabou, is this really you ? What's going on ? :confused:

bandabou
Oct 3rd, 2003, 10:29 PM
Juju ??? Interesting on a fast court ??? She's improved ???

Bandabou, is this really you ? What's going on ? :confused:

Haha.....hey, I never said Juju coudlnīt play. I only said that it would be difficult for her against the sisters on the faster surfaces.

Chance
Oct 4th, 2003, 03:16 AM
thanks, it was a nice article.

skanky~skanketta
Oct 4th, 2003, 03:23 AM
great article.

"But I know that it worked very good for the season and it gives me a lot of motivation to go there because I know there are no secrets, I know I have to work hard because the other players are working hard. Everybody wants the same thing, so you have to work and be professional every day if you want to stay at the top"


thats the secret to success people!for justine, serena, you and me!

Rub
Oct 4th, 2003, 08:01 AM
very nice... thanks!

allez justine!

pigam
Oct 4th, 2003, 09:06 AM
nice article... :D



And PS: Justine still enjoys beeing in Belgium (thank God ;) ) She was here (in Belgium) the past week, and she attended the ceremony of 'le mťrite sportif' in Verviers ... but I understabd what she's sayinbg about the pressure, though ...

Lady
Oct 4th, 2003, 10:50 AM
Thank you!! Very nice article, indeed :D