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Henin-Hardenne, a surprise packet for a jaded tour by Selena Roberts
New York
August 13, 2003

A suitable replacement for Martina Hingis has been as hard to find as pleated skirts on the women's tennis tour. After all, who can replicate her Chucky-doll grin, the carefree way she hurled vases at Anna Kournikova's mane and her lovely attention to detail as she insulted her opponents?

Sniff, sniff, Hingis has been missed. In her absence, the Williams sisters have numbed everyone with kindness for the past two years, discovering that the country clubbers could cozy up to the mischievous mind of Hingis, but feel threatened by two strong, young, black women who carried themselves with heads held high.

So Serena and Venus rounded the corners on their confidence, softened the edge on their defiance and began oozing the air kisses and friendly smiles of pageant contestants. They were warm and inviting, creating a feng shui tour.

Suddenly, there were no more devilish digs between rivals in the news conferences, not when the two players consistently fighting out finals were sisters.

And in these moments, the WTA Tour withered. Sadly, women's sport needs a splash of controversy to interest the fringe fan (refer to women's figure skating to see how prosperous scandal can be).

So, can we expect a return to some devilry at the US Open? Now, at last, we have a new world No.1 in Kim Clijsters, while the injured Serena will not be around Queens County to purr in her on-court catsuit as she did last year.

But it's not Clijsters taking over at the top or the absence of the defending champion that could spur women's tennis out of its slumber. The tour is on its way to recovering its attitude thanks to Clijsters' petite and cagey countrywoman.

Justine Henin-Hardenne is Hingis without the sly grin. In fact, she hardly grins at all because of a childhood she describes as cruel after her mother died. While she cannot match Hingis's flair, Henin-Hardenne does prod opponents into fits of rage - even when the opponent is her cuddly countrywoman, Clijsters.

The new No.1 accused Henin-Hardenne of faking an injury during the final of the WTA Classic event in Carlsbad, California, and went on to say she is dubious whenever Henin calls an injury time-out. "She has probably done that 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," said Clijsters.

Before Blistergate, there was Henin-Hardenne's French Open incident on the way to her upset of Serena. Henin put up a hand for time as her opponent served. Serena saw it, served the ball in the net, and expected a first serve again. The umpire did not see Henin-Hardenne's internationally televised hand signal, and the Belgian kept silent as Serena stewed.

"To start lying and fabricating, it's not fair," said Serena.

What's fair? The diminutive Henin-Hardenne will cry.

"I think all these players don't like it that I'm not so strong and tall and am not the same-looking players as them," she 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."

Wrong or right, cheater or competitor, Henin-Hardenne has given a bite to the women's tour not felt since Hingis went home. She is not a replica of the Swiss diva, but a suitable replacement.

- New York Times

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, Henin-Hardenne does prod opponents into fits of rage - even when the opponent is her cuddly countrywoman, Clijsters.

Is she trying to say Kim looks like a Koala Bear?
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