Williams bows out to boos
Williams bows out to boos
June 6 2003
BY John Parsons in Paris
The Daily Telegraphy
It is springtime in Paris for Justine Henin-Hardenne after her nerve ultimately held in an epic French Open semi-final that ended with Serena Williams losing her Grand Slam domination and also being loudly booed off court by an outrageously partisan French crowd.
Tear-jerker: Serena Williams wipes her eye during her defeat
Although Williams had not helped herself by questioning or making calls a few times too often and by the peremptory congratulatory handshake she offered Henin-Hardenne at the end of her 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 defeat, one had to feel sympathy for the American, if not over the result, then for their hostile approach to her from the start.
While not so persistent or as ferocious as when Martina Hingis walked round to Steffi Graf's side of the court to protest a call before clambering up the umpire's chair to continue the argument in the 1999 final, it took some of the shine of an otherwise memorable contest.
Williams, who broke down in tears, said: "I know I didn't play the most beautiful match but I think it's bad when people start booing between serves and others are egging them on by doing ridiculous things."
Henin-Hardenne, who now meets Kim Clijsters in an all-Belgium final, called it "the most beautiful win of my career". For the first time since the Australian Open final in January last year, someone other than the two Williams sisters will be in a Grand Slam final after Clijsters defeated 19-year-old Russian Nadia Petrova 7-5, 6-1.
Henin-Hardenne, who had come out with guns blazing to break Williams in her first two service games on the way to taking the first set, seemed to have lost the initiative by the time she trailed 1-3 in the third set.
Instead of going for winners with the utmost zest, as she had done at the start, she had started pushing rather than playing through the ball. Yet Williams was also beginning to feel the pace. After a resurging Henin-Hardenne backhand pass on the first point of the fifth game, the Belgian broke back with the help of three unforced errors.
Then on the first point of the sixth game came the moment when the crowd, that had hitherto confined itself to cheering her mistakes, really started to turn on her. They did not like the way she exaggeratedly pointed to how far a Henin-Hardenne shot to the sideline had been out.
One game later, she annoyed them twice more although in fairness she was right on both occasions - first, when she signalled a Henin-Hardenne drive had been long and then by rightly demanding another serve. Although she had gone through with what became a faulty serve, the Belgian had her hand up to denote she was not ready because the crowd were jeering. Henin-Hardenne's refusal to admit that led to Williams saying: "While what happened definitely didn't turn the match around, I think to start lying and fabricating is not fair."
Williams was clearly rattled. She was also tiring. Later, at 6-5, Henin-Hardenne stepped up for a second attempt at repeating her Rome defeat of the Wimbledon and world champion three weeks ago and did so with revitalised confidence and aplomb. A fantastic backhand lob when Williams deposited herself at the net was followed by three serves the American was unable to return into the net.
"It was a very high level contest between two fighters who both wanted to win the match," said the Belgium.
Williams, who looked shocked, refused to talk to French television as she left the court, but said later: "I just need to go home and get my serve together. I enjoy the challenge, I really do. I have something to look forward to when I play my next tournament [also as defending champion] at Wimbledon."