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Justine Time


Photo By Susan Mullane By Steve Flink
09/12/2003

Those who come through to capture major championships for the first time are suddenly examined under a different and more demanding light. They are expected to keep demonstrating that they belong among the elite.


They are accorded a new level of respect among their peers. They can no longer be content with strong showings at the Grand Slam events. They realize that close followers of the game are scrutinizing them more searchingly than ever before.

And so it is for Justine Henin-Hardenne after she secured her first major at Roland Garros this past June. The first Belgian ever to take a "Big Four" crown, her victory is both a breakthrough and a burden. She had to prove that her success on a big stage had been no accident. Henin-Hardenne did just that and more with her courageous and momentous win at the U.S. Open. On this big occasion, Henin-Hardenne had only 20 hours to recover from a stupendous semifinal comeback against Jennifer Capriati before ousting countrywoman Kim Clijsters, 7-5, 6-1, in the championship match. No less an authority than four-time U.S. Open champion Martina Navratilova — a runner-up in the women’s doubles this year at 46 — believed that Henin-Hardenne’s exploits in the last two rounds were almost beyond belief.

"My goodness," said Navratilova of the 21-year-old’s accomplishment. "That was the most amazing effort I think I have ever seen from a man or woman on the court. She kept coming back [in the Capriati match] when she was cramping and having to play different shots. And then she comes back and wins the tournament the next day [over Clijsters]. I mean, that was just amazing."

It surely was. But to fully comprehend why Henin-Hardenne’s win over Clijsters was so remarkable, it is essential to understand what happened in her enthralling meeting with Capriati. Here was a contest eagerly awaited by the game’s cognoscenti. Capriati had won her first tournament since the 2002 Australian Open in New Haven just before the Open. She had come into Flushing with renewed vigor and incentive, knowing that the absence of the Williams sisters would greatly enhance her chances to secure a fourth Grand Slam tournament singles title. Capriati, of course, was not the only leading player who felt a good deal more optimistic about possibly winning the tournament. 1998 champion Lindsay Davenport, who had not won a Grand Slam title since the 2000 Australian Open, spoke openly about her improved plight. Amelie Mauresmo, beaten by Venus Williams in the 2002 semifinals, was undoubtedly more confident about her chances, although she fell rather tamely against Clijsters in the quarterfinals. As for Capriati, she rolled into the penultimate round of the Open with relative ease, dropping only a single set along the way.

With a Friday evening crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium highly charged and fervently supporting the 27-year-old American, Henin-Hardenne had her work cut out for her. The fans at the Open had been more patriotic this year than ever before, unfailingly offering effusive support to U.S. men and women. Their loyalty toward Capriati never wavered all through an exhilarating evening.

At the outset, Henin-Hardenne was at the top of her game. She was swinging freely on all of her shots, lacing her exquisite, one-handed topspin backhand with awesome depth and pace, using the slice backhand skillfully to keep Capriati off guard, moving from defense to offense with alacrity and brio. Capriati was not playing badly by any means, but she could not prevent Henin-Hardenne from establishing a 4-1 lead. Gradually, Capriati found her range off her flat forehand. She surged back to 4-4, and the appreciative crowd gave the American a standing ovation. In the ninth game, Capriati held from 0-30, and the fans stood again to spur on their player.

A demonstrative Capriati collected her fifth game in a row, breaking Henin-Hardenne for the set as the Belgian was off the mark with a forehand approach. As the match progressed, the wind made the conditions increasingly difficult for the players to measure their ground strokes. When Henin-Hardenne flagrantly mis-hit a forehand cross court wide at 3-4, 15-40, Capriati was right where she wanted to be.

She served for the match in the ninth game of that second set. Despite a double fault (one of only two she would serve in the entire match) on the first point, Capriati came from 0-30 to 30-30. She seemed certain to move to match point, rolling her forehand passing shot sharply cross court. Henin-Hardenne somehow produced an astounding forehand half volley drop shot winner. Henin-Hardenne then broke back for 4-5. With Henin-Hardenne serving in the 10th game, Capriati got to 15-30, but here, the Belgian crushed a topspin backhand winner cross court. A stunning backhand stab volley took Henin-Hardenne back to 5-5, and she ran out that set 7-5.
When Henin-Hardenne released a backhand pass winner to break for 1-0 in the final set, Capriati was at a crossroads. But Jennifer broke back for 1-1 and then broke again for 3-1, boosted substantially by the shot of the match. Racing at full force, seemingly trapped deep behind the baseline and outside the alley, Capriati connected brilliantly with a forehand down the line winning passing shot. Capriati moved to 5-2, holding at love with another scintillating forehand down the line into the clear. The wind was swirling ferociously at this stage, and Henin-Hardenne missed frequently off her forehand.

Henin-Hardenne was serving with the wind at her back at 2-5. Capriati reached deuce four times. The Belgian showed her first signs of cramping in this game, and yet she held on. Now it was Capriati’s turn to serve for the match a second time, but once again she was serving into the wind and could garner only a single point as Henin-Hardenne applied pressure with piercing ground strokes off both sides. Justine served at 4-5, 30-30, but a dazzling forehand down the line placement carried her out of that corner and she held for 5-5.

Capriati was surely unnerved, but battled on, holding at 15 for 6-5 with an ace. Two hours and 51 minutes had passed, and both players were hurting. Henin-Hardenne had her muscle cramps to worry about, while Capriati wanted to avoid injury. Jennifer stood up and stretched at the changeover, and then the crowd stood up for her and applauded, hoping she would close out the match. A forehand unforced error put Justine in yet another bind at 5-6, 15-30. Her cramping was even more apparent now, and perhaps Capriati overreacted. She drove an inside out forehand wide. From 30-30, Henin-Hardenne came up with an ace and a service winner to make it into a final set tie-break.

Five unprovoked mistakes from the American enabled Henin-Hardenne to reach quadruple match point at 6-2. The incredibly game Belgian made a pair of unforced backhand errors to make it 6-4, but the battle ended as Capriati missed a backhand volley. Match to Henin-Hardenne 4-6, 7-5, 7-6(4). She had been two points from defeat no fewer than 11 times and survived. To be sure, Henin-Hardenne deserved immense admiration for her courage and character. But despite her noble attempt to win, Capriati beat herself in some ways by getting too anxious when it counted. As Navratilova said, “I think Jennifer gets too much into her head and doesn’t let the body take over. … Eleven times within two points of winning the match and she didn’t get to match point. I don’t care how great the other player is playing: You are allowing that to happen."

This was surely one of the seven best women’s matches in the Open Era at the U.S. championships. It belongs up there with King beating Goolagong in the 1974 final, Navratilova overcoming Chris Evert in the 1984 final, Hana Mandlikova defeating Navratilova in 1985, Navratilova halting Steffi Graf in the 1986 semifinals, Monica Seles moving past Capriati in the 1991 semifinals and Graf stopping Seles in the championship match of 1995. Capriati served for the match twice in her epic with Seles 12 years ago, but this loss was probably even more devastating.

"When I came off the court," Capriati said, "I just felt like the whole world was coming down on me. ... just my heart was being ripped out. But it’s just how I choose to look at it more and feel about it. It was a great match and I gave it all I had. She did too. … I still think it’s a positive thing for me and the future."

Henin-Hardenne was treated intravenously for dehydration. There was significant doubt among insiders the following day about whether she would recover in time to keep her appointment against Clijsters. But she summoned her strength and came through commandingly in the end. Henin-Hardenne had routed Clijsters, 6-0, 6-4, in the Roland Garros final and had added a three-set victory over Clijsters to her credits in the final of San Diego over the summer.

Henin-Hardenne took full advantage of a jittery Clijsters at the outset of their final, sweeping the first three games at the cost of only three points, breaking serve twice in that stretch. But then Clijsters found her range, picked up the pace of her ground game and showed her finest colors. She rallied from 2-4 to capture three games in a row. Henin-Hardenne was showing signs of soreness in her legs and not moving as briskly. But down double set point at 4-5, 15-40, she rose to the occasion and lifted herself out of trouble.

A plucky Henin-Hardenne served an ace to erase the first set point, then scrambled well on the next one and got out of it when Clijsters overhit a two-hander by going for too much. From that juncture, there was no stopping Henin-Hardenne, who swept nine of the last 10 games. Her court coverage was markedly improved in the second set as she sensed the finish line, and her shot selection was beyond reproach. Clijsters was pressing and in many ways pessimistic. She made 40 unforced errors in the 19 games, twice as many as Henin-Hardenne. The top seed and world No. 1 made no excuses for her defeat. She had not lost a set in six matches, including a 6-2, 6-3 dissection of Davenport in the semifinals. But she still fell short of claiming her first major title. She has been in two finals and two semifinals at the majors this year, but without a major title in her collection she is not an authentic No. 1, no matter what the WTA Tour computer says. But she is a singularly gracious player who gives credit where it is due.

"Because Justine moves so well," Clijsters said after the final, "she makes you go for a lot of things. You feel like you have to hit the balls close to the lines. If you’re not at your best and you are just a little bit off, then it’s very hard against her."

Henin-Hardenne was overjoyed, saying, "It’s unbelievable. Maybe this means the French Open wasn’t an accident. It’s a great confirmation to win here. … Physically I was feeling OK. today. But I didn’t know if I was going to be able to forget the match last night with Jennifer and be focused for the final. And I was feeling very tired [before the final]. But when you are going to play a Grand Slam final you cannot be tired. You have to give your best. I tried to do that."

Davenport tried earnestly to secure her first Grand Slam title in more than three years, but she fell short. Clijsters made the towering American look inordinately slow, hitting behind Davenport for repeated winners, defending persistently against her big-hitting adversary. Clijsters tally of 16 unforced errors reflected her solid and resourceful play; Davenport’s 35 were indicative of her inconsistency and vulnerability. But she came away from the summer and the Open feeling more optimistic about her game. "The last few months I felt a lot more encouraged and eager to stay out there," she said, with foot surgery sure to cut short her year. "As of now, I’m totally planning on going to Australia."

Coming out of a fine U.S. Open, two-time major champion Mary Pierce is another big name player looking to make progress in 2004. Pierce made it to the round of 16 for the second straight time in a Grand Slam event, following up productively on her play at Wimbledon. In the second round, Pierce toppled No. 22 seed Jelena Dokic, a player who resided in the Top 10 a year ago. In this spirited backcourt clash, Pierce prevailed 6-2, 6-7(5), 7-6(5). She seemed ready to win in straight sets. Her ground game was superb in the opening set. Her formidable forehand was clicking beautifully, and her two-hander down the line was very deceptive.

Pierce served for the match at 5-4 in the second set and had a match point in that game, but Dokic made a fine return off a first serve and caught Pierce off guard. Dokic lifted her game decidedly and got even at one set all. She then charged to 5-1 in the third. Pierce erupted with crackling winners off both sides, won 20 of 24 points, and moved ahead 6-5. Dokic held on for 6-6 with consecutive second serve aces, which was highly unusual for her. Dokic then took a 3-1 lead in the final set tie-break, but Pierce lost only two more points on her way to victory. At 28, it is not too late for this former world No. 3 to rise close to her peak years again. She has lost weight since Wimbledon and still needs to take off more pounds, but at least her attitude seems healthy. Addressing her positive outlook, Pierce said, "I just want it more now. It means a lot more to me than before. I appreciate it more every day and the process that it takes. … Being home and not being able to play when I really wanted made me really miss it. I’m just happy to be healthy and able to compete again."

Unfortunately for Pierce — and nearly everyone else in the field — not many competitors were on court from the second Monday through Wednesday. Those three days and nights were nearly wiped out by light rain that would not stop. Among the women, only Capriati and Henin-Hardenne completed scheduled fourth round matches on Monday. No women’s matches finished on Tuesday or Wednesday. Most astonishing of all, two women’s round of 16 matches that commenced on Monday were not completed until Thursday. Pierce met No. 7 seed Anastasia Myskina. They commenced on Monday night at 11:09 p.m. and were stopped 25 minutes later. They did not finish because of the abysmal weather until Thursday afternoon, with Myskina a straight sets winner.

Similarly, Francesca Schiavone beat Ai Sugiyama in three sets, and that encounter also lasted from Monday until Thursday. To be sure, the incessant rain had a good deal to do with these prolonged matches. But the Open officials — led by the earnest, yet seemingly thick-headed Brian Earley — clearly made a bad situation worse with their misguided judgments. On Wednesday, for instance, they put Clijsters and Amelie Mauresmo on Ashe Stadium for their quarterfinal before the Pierce-Myskina and Schiavone-Sugiyama matches could be given a chance to be completed. Not until rain delayed play for a sizeable chunk of the Thursday program did the officials have the sense to play the remaining fourth round women’s and men’s matches simultaneously all over the grounds, thus enabling the tournament to finish on time. They could have used what little time they had for tennis on those three rainy days a lot more wisely.

Making matters worse was the Open’s response to drying the courts. The USTA National Tennis Center has no tarpaulins. Instead, the tournament wastes valuable time having staff kneel on the courts toweling them off. It looked ludicrous. Meanwhile, the subject of placing a retractable roof on Arthur Ashe Stadium, and perhaps Louis Armstrong and the Grandstand as well, came up. Arlen Kantarian, USTA chief executive Professional Tennis, said, "I don’t believe a tarp is necessarily the answer. That’s not to say that given the experiences we’ve had we’re not going to look at everything come this fall and this spring. 20/20 hindsight on the roof is always easy to reach. We told you that we’re going to look into that possibility, whether it be Louis Armstrong, Grandstand, what have you, on the possibility of a roof in the future. So in hindsight, we’re very jealous of that retractable roof at the Australian Open."

It is essential that the USTA seriously pursues that possibility. The show must go on. The Open needs to protect itself and stop relying on wishful thinking. The players were given an unnecessarily rough ride this year. Schiavone and Myskina had to play their quarterfinal matches only hours after they completed their round of 16 ordeals. Myskina was taken apart by Henin-Hardenne, and Schiavone lost to Capriati at the same time. The rain forced too much of the tournament to take place over the last four days. A roof would guarantee that on bad weather days, tennis would still be played. There is no longer any excuse for not moving forward with a roof strategy.

In any event, the skies cleared for the last three days, and the Open was able to finish on time. And during that stretch run, Henin-Hardenne announced herself as one of the toughest athletes in any sport. In turn, she made a strong case for herself as the best woman player in the world for 2003. Not only did she secure two majors, but she made it to the semifinals of the Australian Open and Wimbledon. Henin-Hardenne had two clay court wins over Serena Williams, who missed the event to recover from knee surgery, as did her sister Venus, still looking for a solution to her recurring abdominal strain. So do not put an asterisk next to Henin-Hardenne’s name as the 2003 U.S. Open champion. With or without Venus and Serena, she was an authentic champion.

When Serena and Venus return, the ever-improving Henin-Hardenne will force them to get back on the beam swiftly. This little woman with the slender frame has perhaps the largest heart in tennis.
 

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verrry nice article, thx for posting it :)
Where did you get it from? was it in a newspaper or something?
 

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whatever, this topic is way to sensitive to my heart, im like still crushed about Jens loss so i cant comment!
 

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Henin-Hardenne deserved immense admiration for her courage and character.
In any event, the skies cleared for the last three days, and the Open was able to finish on time. And during that stretch run, Henin-Hardenne announced herself as one of the toughest athletes in any sport. In turn, she made a strong case for herself as the best woman player in the world for 2003. Not only did she secure two majors, but she made it to the semifinals of the Australian Open and Wimbledon. Henin-Hardenne had two clay court wins over Serena Williams, who missed the event to recover from knee surgery, as did her sister Venus, still looking for a solution to her recurring abdominal strain. So do not put an asterisk next to Henin-Hardenne’s name as the 2003 U.S. Open champion. With or without Venus and Serena, she was an authentic champion.

When Serena and Venus return, the ever-improving Henin-Hardenne will force them to get back on the beam swiftly.

This little woman with the slender frame has perhaps the largest heart in tennis.


:worship: :D
 

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tennisIlove09 said:
When Serena and Venus return, the ever-improving Henin-Hardenne will force them to get back on the beam swiftly. This little woman with the slender frame has perhaps the largest heart in tennis.
:tape: ;) :angel:
 

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Kabuke said:
Thanks sweetie! :kiss:
you're welcome :D
Oh my God, is this a nice thread or whàt ;)
 

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Nice post, but I find it amusing that the writer seems to suggest that only Jennifer, Lindsay, and Amelie felt they benefitted from the absence of Serena and Venus Williams. :lol:
 

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good article, thanks for posting..

every time I hear about the capriati/henin match it rises in importance. first it was the match of the tournament, then the match of the year, and now its one of the best ever at the us open... I sure picked a good night to go to the open, no? :)
 

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You were there :eek: *jealous*
 

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Really great article :D Thank you for posting
 
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