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Henin-Hardenne Increases Ranking Intrigue
Sun Sep 7, 4:58 PM ET

By HAL BOCK, AP Sports Writer

NEW YORK - Justine Henin-Hardenne's victory in the U.S. Open (news - web sites) certified her status as a major star and increased the intrigue at the top of the women's tennis rankings.

AP Photo

Slideshow: Tennis: U.S. Open

By beating Kim Clijsters 7-5, 6-1, the tiny Belgian moved up to No. 2 in the world, slipping past Serena Williams (news - web sites), who sat out the Open, recuperating from knee surgery. Clijsters remains No. 1 despite the loss but was unable to close a serious gap in her credentials — the absence of a Grand Slam title.

Clijsters seemed to have every opportunity to take care of that little detail, marching through her first six matches at the Open without dropping a set and catching Henin-Hardenne after a grueling three-hour semifinal victory that left her dehydrated and on IV fluids for two hours after the match.

Even Henin-Hardenne had doubts about her chances.

About six hours before the women's final, the WTA issued an ominous medical update on her condition, calling her questionable for the match against Clijsters, with only a 50-50 chance to play.

Then Henin-Hardenne answered all the questions with a convincing victory. She saved two set points in the first set, then dominated the second.

A wisp of a woman at 5-foot-5 1/2, 125 pounds, her recovery after the draining semifinal victory over Jennifer Capriati and her victory in the championship match was nothing short of remarkable. Henin-Hardenne credited the trainers and doctors who treated her for two hours after the grueling match.

"I think I went to sleep at 3:45," she said. "Then I was awake at 8:30, then tried to sleep a little bit more until 11:30, but it was very hard because the match was still in my mind. On the other side, I knew I had a final, and I didn't know (what) I was going to do to be fine."

Her support staff, coach Carlos Rodriguez and physical trainer Pat Etcheberry, encouraged Henin-Hardenne, reminding her of how well she was playing.

"I did believe in my chances," she said. "I went on the court to win the match and it worked pretty good."

She began the match with a statement, sweeping the first three games. It was a signal that despite that tough semifinal, Henin-Hardenne was not going away quietly.

On the other side of the net, Clijsters was impressed.

"She's a very fit player," Clijsters said. "She had enough time, I think, to recover. Her movement is the strongest part of her game. She moved really well again."

It was a bitter loss for Clijsters, who had marched into the final without dropping a set at the Open this year but made 40 unforced errors, twice as many as Henin-Hardenne, who won her second major in the last three Slams. Clijsters is now 0-3 in major championship matches.

"The first six matches that I played coming into the final, I definitely played a lot better and I definitely had a much higher level," she said. "On the other hand, I played an opponent who was the best one out there, the best one out of the whole tournament.

"I always want to take the positive out of the tournaments. Although it's very disappointing now to have lost here, I think Justine was just too strong again, had an answer for lot of my shots. She just dealt with it really well."

It was especially satisfying for Henin-Hardenne because she has never before performed spectacularly on the punishing hard courts of the National Tennis Center, eliminated in the fourth round each of the past three years.

"I have never really played well at the U.S. Open," she said. "And I came in this year and didn't know what to expect. I just knew I was a different player from last year, from the years before."

Her position in the rankings is evidence of that.
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