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Serena looks to avenge 2003 loss to Henin

Matthew Cronin / Special to
Posted: 2 days ago

The only downside to Serena Williams' upcoming match with Justine Henin at Roland Garros is that it won't be for the championship.

Serena will meet Henin, the top-ranked Belgian and most dominant clay-courter four years running, in the quarterfinals of the French Open on Tuesday, and the latest chapter in this rivalry will likely determine the future winner of the event. There was bad blood before and a cold yet hearty respect now.

Serena Williams has plenty of history with her uarterfinal opponent.

Once again, Henin will attempt to prevent Serena's march to a calendar-year Grand Slam, just like she did back in 2003 when she sent Serena screaming and weeping off the court in a dramatic three-set semifinal victory.

Once again, Serena will try to prove that she can win on any surface against any player at any time. To Henin, Court Philippe Chatrier is Le Palace Justine.

To Serena, it's just another Slam center court that she hopes will once again house her massive imprint.

"Absolutely not," Serena said when asked whether Roland Garros was Justine's house. "Obviously I know she's played great tennis. At this point, I don't have anything to lose. I can only go up. I didn't play here last year. I can only propel myself forward and that's how I look at every match, including her. I know she's playing great, but I never count myself out, because if I do, then it's best for me not to even go out. I might as well stay home and go on vacation."

Serena doesn't want to look back at what happened in 2003, when she accused Henin of "cheating, lying and fabricating," and broke down in tears four times in her press conference after her incredibly painful 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 loss.

Serena was booed viciously, and the hostile crowd cracked the shell that had brought her four consecutive major titles going into the event, which she had nicknamed her "Serena Slam."

She not only was undone by the crowd but by some gamesmanship on Henin's part, when at 4-2 in the final set, the Belgian held up her hand on a Serena first serve and then Serena served it into the net. Serena thought she would get a first serve again, but the umpire didn't see Henin raise her hand and Justine didn't acknowledge what she did. Serena won the point, but her concentration was cooked.

"I know I wasn't at fault in any way, and I guess she was doing everything to win," Serena said. "It was a long time ago. So much has happened since '03. It seems like decades ago."

Serena says that she's now mature enough to handle a hostile crowd. She knows very well that French-speaking fans are going to be cheering hard for the Belgian and that she can't afford to start glaring at them, fighting with the umpire or getting in Henin's face. She's planning on going into a deep trance.

"I definitely feel like I've matured to that point," she said. "I feel like, if the crowd gets involved, I'm just going to zone out, just focus on me. I've definitely grown up a lot, matured a lot and been through a lot of things since '03. I've been through death (older sister Yetunde Price, was murdered late in 2003). I had (knee) surgery. I've been through a lot."

And yet, she has managed to power through it. Serena has collected three of her eight Grand Slams since 2003.

"It takes a strong person to be able to be at the bottom of the barrel and be able to come back," she said. I was beyond the bottom of the barrel."

Top seed Justine Henin's biggest obstacle might be against Serena Williams. (Lionel Cironneau / Associated Press)

Henin, who is seperated from her husband, Pierre-Yves Hardenne, has also had to overcome adversity. She's adept at focusing her energies on court, but she's seems to be opening herself up more to further possibilities.

"I just tried to become a better person and to grow up and to give my best and to give love around us and to give happiness," said Henin, who is in contact with her estranged father and siblings for the first time in several years. "I just want to get more concerned, more involved, and a lot of things have changed. And I feel much better with myself."

Henin says she never spoke to Serena about the 2003 incident and wants to leave it behind, adding that it didn't spoil her title run. She says they both evolved and can see things more clearly now.

They played in the Miami final a little over two months ago, where Serena fought off two match points and finally hit through the Belgian in the end.

Henin isn't thrilled that she lost her intensity then, but she says she learned her lesson and believes that on clay, her footwork, variety and shot selection will come more to the forefront. But you won't get her to guarantee victory against one of her greatest rivals.

"We fought like tigers, both of us, and in Miami there was great respect on both sides," Henin said. "I think it's no use trying to revive an old story. I want to win this match and I will give everything I can to do it. But who knows what can happen. That's why tennis is so beautiful, because no one knows what's going to happen."

1,179 Posts
Of course she remembers. Everyone remembers. How many times does it come up here or in a article. I say forgive...but not forget. That's a memory that people of color never forget.

It's also obvious Henin hasn't forgotten either and I don't expect her to.
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