Late rally spells doom for fellow Belgian Henin
Updated: Thursday June 07, 2001 11:31 AM
PARIS (Reuters) -- Kim Clijsters became the first Belgian to reach a Grand Slam final on Thursday when she fought back from a set and a break down to beat compatriot Justine Henin 2-6, 7-5, 6-3 at the French Open.
The 12th seed sealed the landmark victory one day before her 18th birthday.
"I'm very happy, I was getting very tired but kept trying and trying and managed to come back. She was just too good for me in the first set but I kept trying," Clijsters said.
"It is a great piece of history for Belgian tennis -- I think the whole of Belgium is upside down right now."
Clijsters, whose previous best performance in a Grand Slam was reaching the fourth round of this year's Australian Open, will play top seed Martina Hingis or fourth seed Jennifer Capriati in Saturday's final. The two meet later on Thursday.
Henin, who celebrated her 19th birthday last week, started off in irrepressible form on Centre Court.
Pummeling Clijsters with a series of searing backhands and heavy serves, the 14th seed wrapped up the opening set in just 28 minutes.
She grabbed an early break in the second set for 2-1 as the 12th seed looked to have run out of ideas.
Clijsters lifted her game, though, adding consistency to her groundstrokes and eradicating the errors that had plagued her in the opening set.
Henin also scaled new heights, however, matching her opponent shot for shot with pin-point groundstrokes to all corners of the court.
She sent Clijsters scampering around the arena with some deft drop shots before repeatedly drilling her trademark backhand past the 17-year-old.
Clijsters, cheered on by her boyfriend Lleyton Hewitt, showed some of the Australian player's grit and determination, though, and refused to fold.
She dug her heels into the Roland Garros clay and fought her way back into the contest with some fiercely struck double handed backhands.
Clijsters broke back for 4-4 when Henin, appearing to feel pressure for the first time in the match, double faulted.
She held and a game later earned a set point but drilled a backhand just long to let Henin off the hook.
Two games later, however, she made no mistake by rifling a backhand down the line to level the match.
The pair began the final set neck-and-neck but the momentum was with Clijsters. Henin held her first two serves but eventually the pressure told.
Serving at 2-3 and leading 40-love she made four forehand errors to give Clijsters a break point. The 17-year-old made no mistake, thumping a return into Henin's backhand corner for 4-2.
She held serve to love, finishing with an ace, as she piled the pressure on and Henin won only one more game before Clijsters slammed away an angled overhead to clinch victory in one hour and 51 minutes.
"I am just so happy," she beamed. "I never gave up. I kept looking up at my supporters and it really helped especially when I was down. I stayed focused and concentrated and managed to win."
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