A change in the wind
The '03 match a memory, Serena, Henin played tennis
Posted: Tuesday June 5, 2007 5:56PM; Updated: Tuesday June 5, 2007 5:56PM
PARIS -- There's a point in every Grand Slam fortnight when the texture, the crowd, the energy -- everything about the tournament, really -- changes.
After the early-round upsets, after the rain-soaked draw has had time to repair itself, after all the intriguing but minor subplots dissolve, someone will look at the draw sheet and say, as people said Tuesday morning, "Now the real French Open begins."
At last: The top players going head-to-head. At last: Their old clashes and controversies rising and replaying in the common mind. This is the moment. Their characters once again put to the test.
We trust the game to do that. We trust it to be so important, so valuable to the players, that it reveals them in a way that interviews and photo shoots and cool sneaker commercials never can. We trust it to show us Serena Williams hurling down her racket under a thick Parisian sky, broken too soon. We trust it to show us Justine Henin, light and speedy and stepping on Williams' throat in a way that never seemed possible before.
Don't bother getting a tape. Tuesday's quarterfinal rematch was nothing like the classic these two played in the 2003 semifinal at Roland Garros. Yes, the crowd of 15,109 showered boos on Williams after that racket flew early in the second set, but they sounded almost obligatory and drifted quickly away. The match was never that close, after all, and there was no controversy like the one caused by Henin's infamous phantom hand of four years ago.
Yes, Williams shed a tear -- or maybe just dabbed at something in her eye while walking off Court Phillippe Chatrier a 6-4, 6-3 loser -- but it was nothing like her post-match cascade then.
"I've never played so hideous and horrendous," Williams said after the match on Tuesday. That's a melodramatic way of not giving Henin credit -- and makes it easier to write the day off as one of those once-a-career nightmares -- but it's not too far off the mark.
Still, even bad matches can matter, and Tuesday's was a milestone for both women. For the 25-year-old Williams, it marked the end of her miracle phase, a moment in time when it seemed she could ignore the age-old dictates of match-experience and conditioning and still produce superb tennis.
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