Henin rules clay again
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
PARIS ” An hour after clutching her fourth French Open trophy, Justine Henin cradled other precious cargo in her arms: her 6week-old niece.
Talking and laughing with friends and relatives in a lounge just off center court, Henin slowly rocked her brother’s baby, then gently kissed her head. As much as a sixth Grand Slam title meant to the top- ranked Belgian, this scene was worth far more.
For Henin, life off the court has long presented far more problems than life on it. So after overwhelming No. 7 Ana Ivanovic of Serbia 6- 1, 6- 2 Saturday for a third consecutive French Open championship, Henin was thrilled to be able to sip champagne alongside family members with whom she only recently re-established contact.
“It’s been a huge step in my life in the last few months. And I was glad I could give them this victory, because everyone suffered a lot,” said Henin, who went about seven years without speaking to her father or three siblings. “Today, finally, we are united in this joy, and we can share this moment.”
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This was Henin’s fifth consecutive final at a major she entered; she skipped the Australian Open in January while working through personal issues, including separating from her husband.
Back in the Grand Slam spotlight, back at her favorite tournament, Henin was as good as ever at Roland Garros, where she’s won 35 consecutive sets.
“It’s like my garden,” said Henin, 40 in finals at the French Open, 2-4 in finals at the other Grand Slams. “I just feel home over here.”
Henin is the first person since Monica Seles in 1990-92 to win three French Opens in a row. In today’s men’s final, Roger Federer will be trying to win his fourth consecutive Grand Slam title ” something no man has done in nearly 40 years ” while Rafael Nadal bids for a third straight French Open title.
Despite all of her experience, Henin began slowly Saturday, double-faulting to get broken in the first game, then falling behind 40-love in the second.
The 19-year-old Ivanovic was the one in her first Grand Slam final, but it was Henin who appeared nervous at the outset, perhaps burdened by wanting to win so badly with her younger sister and two older brothers in the stands. They traveled from Belgium to root for her at the 1999 French Open, before their falling- out ” then didn’t attend another match of hers until last week.
“I am looking at her and see that this year she is laughing, smiling, and taking pleasure in what she does,” said her oldest brother, David. “I used to see her on TV and she did not always look too happy.”
After one flubbed forehand in the first game, Henin glared at the ball, as though it were to blame for the miscue. In the second game, though, it was Ivanovic who began to get tense.
“It just hit me, I guess,” Ivanovic said. The first sign of trouble came on her awkward serve tosses; she had to catch the ball and start again. Henin broke back to 1-1 with a backhand that clipped the net and danced over. The next time Ivanovic served, she double- faulted twice, including at break point, then hung her head.
That was part of a stretch in which Henin won 19 of 23 points and eight consecutive games.
By then, fans were regularly chanting, ” Ana! Ana!” in hopes of getting her going. But Ivanovic kept making mistakes ” she finished with 26 unforced errors, twice as many as Henin, plus five doublefaults ” and her face was flushed.
“If I could control my emotions better,” said Ivanovic, who upset No. 2 Maria Sharapova in the semifinals, “it would be a much different match.”
Maybe. But Henin was superb and never let up. Even when Ivanovic made yet another miscue to make it 6- 1, 4- 1, Henin let out an “Allez!” (“Let’s go!”) as the ball sailed out, as if things were tight and the point were vital.
“It was important for me to show that I wanted to win every point,” Henin said. “And not let her come back.”
To reinforce that, Henin’s coach, Carlos Rodriguez, gave her three envelopes containing notes ” one to be opened if leading by three games, another if she served for the match, and a third if she won.
“What I’m saying with the note is, ‘This is what you have done to get to this stage, now continue,”‘ Rodriguez said. “It’s simple.”
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