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New role for Henin-Hardenne: Serena's chief nemesis

By STEVEN WINE, AP Sports Writer
June 5, 2003
PARIS (AP) -- She's John McEnroe's favorite player. She has the most beautiful backhand in Belgium -- or anywhere else. And now she's Serena Williams' No. 1 nemesis.

Justine Henin-Hardenne ended Williams' one-year domination of major events by beating her 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 Thursday in the semifinals of the French Open.

It was the first loss for Williams in her past 34 Grand Slam matches, but her second straight loss to Henin-Hardenne. Williams was 21-0 this year before the Belgian beat her at Charleston, S.C., in April.


Williams will remain No. 1 next week, but there's been a slight shift in the balance of power.

``I hope things are going to change,'' Henin-Hardenne said. ``She remains a great champion, very difficult to beat. So it's early to say anything. But the gap is becoming smaller.''

One indication: On Saturday, Roland Garros will host the first Grand Slam final since the 2002 Australian Open featuring someone other than the Williams sisters.

Instead, it will be the first all-Belgian Grand Slam final, with the No. 4-seeded Henin-Hardenne facing No. 2 Kim Clijsters.

``Belgian people have to be going crazy,'' Henin-Hardenne said.

``A real Belgian slam,'' Clijsters said.

Henin-Hardenne will be hard-pressed to surpass her inspired performance in the semifinals.

Williams may be the biggest, strongest, fastest, best-hitting player on the women's tour, as Andre Agassi said Tuesday. But Henin-Hardenne was more relaxed, moved better and showed more patience and consistency with her shots.

She whipped that one-handed backhand for winners -- and did the same with her forehand. She wavered serving at 5-4 in the final set, double-faulting twice and losing the game at love, then steadied and won the final two games.

Fans on center court rooted for Henin-Hardenne as if she were French, while also crossing the lines of tennis etiquette by cheering Williams' mistakes.

Henin-Hardenne was diplomatic when asked about the fan behavior.

``The crowd gave me all the support I need to win,'' she said. ``I say thank you to them, but it's true that sometimes it was a little bit too much.''

Loyalties will be more evenly divided Saturday, when Henin-Hardenne plays in her second Grand Slam final. Venus Williams beat her to win the 2001 Wimbledon title.

Henin-Hardenne was then 19 and beginning just her third year on the women's tour. Last week she turned 21 -- old enough to have her biography published (with a foreword by McEnroe), and old enough to know that a semifinal victory over Williams doesn't justify a big celebration.

``The tournament is not finished,'' she said. ``There's still a match to be played on Saturday.''

Henin-Hardenne was just 12 when her mother died of cancer, and in a profession where arrested development can be a problem, she has always stressed the importance of keeping perspective.

``It's fantastic to beat Serena in the French Open,'' she said. ``But there are many other important things in life. At times you're living good or bad times. That may be more important. The day when I got married was the nicest day of my life. I cannot compare that to a victory like today's.''

Updated on Thursday, Jun 5, 2003 3:45 p
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