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Moody Williams bites the dust
June 6 2003
BY Stephen Bierley at Roland Garros
The Guardian

For all-Williams, read all-Belgian. The world of women's tennis was turned upside down here yesterday when Serena Williams, the world No1 and holder of the French Open title, was beaten 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 by Justine Henin-Hardenne in a semi-final of high drama, controversy and thrills.

Henin-Hardenne, the world No4, had won two of her previous four matches against Serena Williams, but few expected the diminutive Belgian to pull it off this time. Yet the mouse roared, and tomorrow Henin-Hardenne will play Kim Clijsters, the No2 seed, for the world's premier clay-court title.

Women's tennis has become accustomed to the rule of the Williams sisters. Venus and Serena had played each other in five of the past six grand slams, and the last four in succession, with Serena claiming all four titles. Before yesterday, the last slam match Serena had lost was against Venus in the 2001 US Open final, which was the first time they had played each other at this level.

Venus went out in the fourth round here, beaten by the 18-year-old Russian Vera Zvonareva, but when Serena crushed France's Am?lie Mauresmo in the quarter-finals she appeared unstoppable, a champion of invincible power and overwhelming stamina. Henin-Hardenne obviously thought differently.

Clijsters had paved the way for an all-Belgian final earlier in the afternoon, defeating the unseeded Russian Nadia Petrova 7-5, 6-1 to reach her second French Open final, having been beaten by Jennifer Capriati 12-10 in the third set in 2001.

Clijsters had been expecting a rematch of this year's Australian Open semi-final against Serena when she held a 5-1 lead in the third set, but like everybody else she had reckoned without the fierce tenacity and fighting spirit of her fellow Belgian.

Henin-Hardenne knew that she had to play out of her skin and serve at the very highest level if she was to beat Willams, and she made a sensational start, breaking the American's serve twice for a 3-0 first set lead. She faltered on her own service in the fourth game, but this setback was only temporary and she closed out the first set in just 30 minutes with a ripping 167kph ace.

The Belgian's fluent movement and excellent shot selec tion occasional made Williams appear clumsy, while the American's attempts at drop shots were excruciatingly awful in their execution. Her forehand was also well below its best, as was her first serve, but Henin-Hardenne was playing beautiful tennis, winning the majority of the prolonged rallies.

However there were hints in the second set that she might be tiring a little, hardly surprising given the amount of hard running she was having to do. Williams levelled, and when Henin-Hardenne lost her serve to go 3-1 down in the final set it seemed the writing was on the clay. As against Clijsters in Melbourne, Williams was raising her game and it appeared only a matter of time before the Belgian would be swept away.

But at 3-1 up Williams played an appallingly loose service game, giving Henin-Hardenne new hope. Then, in the next game, the American called a Henin shot out, which it was, and the crowd, somewhat unfairly, began to get on the American's back. Henin lost the game to go 4-2 down, and then in Williams's next service game she again called a ball out on the baseline. Again the call was correct but by now the crowd, many of whom were Belgian, were in no mood to accept it. They cheered when Williams served a fault, and she was shaking her head as she walked to the chair having lost her serve.

The drama was not over. Henin levelled, broke Williams again for a 5-4 lead, and then choked, double faulting twice as she served for the match and failing to win a single point. It seemed impossible that Williams would allow her another chance, but that is exactly what she did, dropping serve for the fourth time in a row.

Henin skipped out in front of her at the last changeover, and served out to love. The Williams handshake was cursory, and there was no word of congratulation. A hugely delighted Henin-Hardenne could not have cared less.
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