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French fans say 'Go, Belgium!'

By JOCELYN GECKER, Associated Press Writer
June 7, 2003
PARIS (AP) -- ``Go, Belgium!'' came a cry from the crowd during the first all-Belgian Grand Slam final Saturday at the French Open.

The center-court crowd included flag-waving fans, Belgian royalty and government leaders as Justine Henin-Hardenne became the first player from her nation to win a major tennis tournament.

``For us, this is the event of the century,'' said one fan, Brussels native Caroline Kaisin, who rooted for Henin-Hardenne but also cheered Kim Clijsters.


``Belgians just love seeing a Belgian out there -- let alone two,'' said Kaisin, who wore a wreath of fake flowers in the national colors, black, red and yellow.

The extent of national pride was evident in the front row of the VIP stands. King Albert and Queen Paola were among a half-dozen members of the Belgian royal family.

``That was a great day for Belgium, one we'll talk about for 20 years,'' said Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, who also attended.

Belgians traveled across the border by train or car to Paris to watch the event in person. Some said they wished it had lasted a bit longer.

No. 4 Henin-Hardenne beat No. 2 Clijsters with surprising ease, winning 6-1, 6-4 in 67 minutes.

``It was short, but worth the trip,'' said Eddy Masset, a clothing salesman who drove five hours Saturday from Antwerp.

Masset said the nation hadn't been this excited about its sports stars since Eddy Merckx dominated cycling in the 1960s.

``It's a winning feeling. We don't get it very often,'' said Masset, one of many Belgian fans wearing a floppy-styled top hat in the national colors.

After the match, Astrid Moge, a 20-year-old Parisian, posed for a picture with a pair of Belgians draped in their national colors.

``We're honoring Belgium today,'' Moge said. ``It's a real celebration.''


American twins Bob and Mike Bryan won their first Grand Slam title in men's doubles Saturday, beating defending champions Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Paul Haarhuis 7-6 (3), 6-3 in the French Open final.

The brothers were identified by name cards at their postmatch news conference.

``This is a dream come true for us,'' Mike said. ``We've been working since we were 2 years old on the courts. Now to come out here and be on this stage is just the biggest moment in our lives.''


The four Grand Slam tournaments rejected a request by players for the events to commit more money to prizes, promotion and pension programs.

The decision was announced Saturday after Grand Slam officials met with representatives of the men's and women's tours and the International Men's Tennis Association, a breakaway players' union.

In March, the ATP and WTA Tour urged the chairmen of the U.S. Open, Wimbledon, French Open and Australian Open to share more of their profits.

Prize money at ATP events has decreased 10 percent over the past three years to just over $55 million in 2003, with the largest drop in payments for doubles. The men's prize money at the Grand Slam events rose 13 percent to a combined total of about $22.4 million last year.

Updated on Saturday, J
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