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Justine Henin-Hardenne became Belgium's first winner of a grand slam title after she beat fellow Belgian, Kim Clijsters, in straight sets.
June 8 2003
By Jon Henderson at Roland Garros
The Observer

Anyone who saw this final as the Williams sisters' revenge - 'So you're fed up with us playing each other, try two Belgians wearing baseball caps' - may now feel entitled to add: 'I told you so.'

On a golden afternoon, Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters gave us a bit of a stinker, the match shot through with unforced errors, although Henin will be happy with the 6-0, 6-4 victory that made her Belgium's first winner of a grand slam title.

After four successive grand slam finals in which Serena Williams beat older sister Venus, this was still a day of rejoicing for one of tennis's least heralded countries. It was just a pity that, with a massive Belgian contingent on a packed Court Philippe Chatrier, which included King Albert II and Queen Paola, the world's second - and fourth-ranked players produced a match whose moments of excellence were in short supply. Neither really distinguished herself before Henin clinched a victory worth ?581,000 plus huge collateral benefits.

Even so, Henin, who was 21 last Sunday (Clijsters is 20 today), was understandably ecstatic when she converted her first match point, appropriately thanks to another forehand error by Clijsters. The new champion dropped her racket and covered her face with her hands before making her way to embrace her husband, Pierre Yves, and her coach, Carlos Rodriguez.

After receiving the Suzanne Lenglen Cup - and a kiss - from her King, who by this stage had dispensed with his white cloth cap, Henin addressed the crowd in French, dedicating her win to her dead mother. 'She is now in paradise,' said Henin, betraying little emotion. A surprisingly upbeat Clijsters, who lost the 2001 final here, a much more competitive match against Jennifer Capriati, also spoke, thanking her boyfriend, Lleyton Hewitt, for staying until the end. For his part, Hewitt looked as if he wished he hadn't.

Blonde, Belgian, baseball-becapped baseline-bashers they may be, but yesterday's finalists are far from being clones. For a start, Clijsters is a Flemish speaker while Henin's first language is French. Personality-wise, Clijsters is gregarious and open; the sharp-featured Henin is just a little cold. Then there are their relationships with men. Clijsters seems happy to remain single, although enjoying a long-term partner ship with Hewitt; Henin married last November.

Out on court, there are also differences, notably Clijsters's two-fisted backhand as opposed to the sublime single-handed one that Henin employs. But their modus operandi is much the same, taken straight from the clay-court textbook: establish supremacy from the baseline before trying anything fancy.

Sadly, though, neither hit any sort of form, although Henin may argue she did not have to given the unforced errors that flowed from Clijsters' racket, particularly the forehand. At times, Henin was not much better, even the famed backhand misfiring. Clijsters fluffed six break points in Henin's first two service games and lost the set in 26 minutes. In the second, she pulled back from 4-2 to 4-4 to suggest she may come back. The recovery quickly evaporated in the 90-degree heat.

Lurking in the background were the Williams sisters (metaphorically, that is - in fact they are back in Florida preparing for Wimbledon). Just how significant is the failure of either of them to reach the final here has, inevitably, been much discussed. In Serena's case, the answer is not particularly significant; in Venus's, the plot is in danger of being lost.

As far as their father, Richard, is concerned, the plot is supposed to be that Serena and Venus enjoy years of unchallenged supremacy as numbers one and two in the world. In a typical stream of consciousness a month ago, he said: 'So women's tennis is getting boring - and you know why? Because two lovely black women dominate it.'

Despite the outcome here, Serena still does. Clay remains her most difficult surface and in Thursday's semi-final Henin, backed by a Belgian section of the crowd, exploited her vulnerability. She will come out smoking if she gets a rematch at Wimbledon.

Venus, meanwhile, has already been displaced in the rankings by Clijsters and is looking increasingly distracted by a nagging injury to an abdominal muscle and being eclipsed by her younger sister. By the end of the year, we should be clearer about how ambitious she remains.
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