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Henin-Hardenne routs Clijsters to win French Open crown


June 7, 2003
PARIS (Ticker) - Justine Henin-Hardenne made good on a promise close to her heart.

Henin-Hardenne crushed second seed Kim Clijsters, 6-0, 6-4, Saturday in their all-Belgian final to capture the French Open crown.

The fourth-seeded Henin-Hardenne needed just 67 minutes to earn her first career Grand Slam title.

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Eleven years ago, she sat with her mother, Francoise, in the stands in Roland Garros watching Monica Seles beat Steffi Graf in the championship match. The 10-year-old girl told her mother that one day, she too, will win the French Open. Francoise died of cancer three years later.

On Saturday, a tearful Henin-Hardenne - after becoming Belgium's first Grand Slam champion - dedicated her greatest tennis triumph to her mother.

"I want to dedicate this win to my mom who has been taking care of me from heaven," said Henin-Hardenne in French after lifting the trophy. "I hope that you are very proud of me."

Afterwards she added, "I think she gave me all the energy I needed to win the match."

The 21-year-old from the southern French-speaking Walloon region of Belgium, who lost her previous major final at Wimbledon in 2001, became the 10th woman to have defeated the top two players in the world at a Grand Slam. She upset top seed and defending champion Serena Williams in the semifinals.

"I said, 'If you want to win this tournament, you have to play great,'" Henin-Hardenne said. "That's what I did, and it worked."

Clijsters lost her second final at Roland Garros. She was runner-up to Jennifer Capriati here in 2001. Errors and lost opportunities were a big factor in the defeat for Clijsters, who committed 35 unforced errors with just nine winners and converted just 1-of-9 break points.

"I wasn't even close to playing my best tennis today, but I'm happy for Justine that she won," Clijsters said. "I hope I can get another chance and do better next time."

On Sunday, she will try to celebrate her 20th birthday with a women's doubles crown when she pairs with Ai Sugiyama.

On a hot day in Paris, Clijsters was made to pay for missing several break points early in the match. In both of Henin-Hardenne's opening two service games, Clijsters went ahead 40-0, but was unable to break.

"It could have been 3-0 to me," she said. "I had game point in every game there in the beginning of that set. Justine played too good on those points. She was really not giving me anything for free on those points. She made me come up with better shots."

In contrast, her opponent took both of her opportunities on Clijsters' serve to race into a 4-0 lead.

That set the tone for the match and Henin-Hardenne wrapped up the opening set in just 26 minutes.

Clijsters, encouraged from the stands by her boyfriend and world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt, eventually managed to win her first game of the match in the first game of the second set.

But her much-awaited comeback never materialized as the Flemish player, despite managing to raise her level, was kept at bay by the excellent tennis produced by her compatriot, who varied her shots and changed pace constantly.

Henin-Hardenne converted her first break opportunity with a clinical backhand from the net. She then took a 3-1 lead by winning her service game before maintaining her advantage at 4-2.

Henin-Hardenne had a break point on Clijsters' next service game after a backhand passing shot, but Clijsters got back to deuce before taking the game to again claw her way back.

It was short-lived as Henin-Hardenne grabbed a 5-4 lead to serve for the match. Clijsters' forehand bounced back off the top of the net cord on match point, giving Henin-Hardenne her fourth tournament victory of the season and 10th of her career.

"It's very hard to find the right words because it's a very special emotion," she said. "It's more than I could imagine, what I have. I didn't know on match point where the ball was. I am so happy right now, I can't tell you."

After Henin-Hardenne hugged Clijsters at the net, she climbed into the stands to embrace her husband, Pierre-Yves, and her coach, Carlos Rodriguez.

"I can't imagine that this trophy, it's mine," Henin-Hardenne said. "It's amazing. It was a dream when I was young and it becomes a reality now. It's not everything in my life, though, it is just a step in my life. I have around me lots of people that I love and that is very important."

The 1997 Roland Garros Girls' champion, Henin-Hardenne earned $958,000 for her triumph and will move up to third in the rankings next week, passing Venus Williams.

Clijsters, who took home $479,000, dropped her second straight match to Henin-Hardenne, but still leads their series, 7-4. She fell to 1-3 on clay against her and 0-3 in championship matches.

"I always have very tough matches against her on clay," Clijsters said. "She moves so well, she's very accurate. I think on clay, that's the strongest part of the game."

Ten members of Belgian royalty and three government officials were in attendance at Philippe Chatrier centre court to watch their countrywomen, including King Albert II, Queen Paola and Crown Prince Philippe.

Three other championships were awarded Saturday.

Third-seeded Bob and Mike Bryan defeated defending champions Paul Haarhuis of the Netherlands and Yevgeny Kafelnikov of Russia, 7-6 (7-3), 6-3, to become the first Americans and brothers to win the Roland Garros men's doubles title since Luke and Murphy Jensen in 1993.

It is the second title for Mike Bryan, who partnered with Lisa Raymond to capture the mixed doubles crown on Friday.
 
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