Small nation ecstatic about Saturday's win-win situationPosted: Thursday June 05, 2003 6:55 PM
BRUSSELS, June 5 (Reuters) -- Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters have yet to contest the French Open final. But two days before one of them is crowned champion, Belgium was already hailing its first Grand Slam winner.
The nation was guaranteed the women's title after Henin-Hardenne clawed her way past defending champion Serena Williams 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 in a dramatic semifinal on Thursday to set up an all-Belgian final with Clijsters.
With the majority of Belgians set to be glued to their television screens for the title showdown on Saturday, Belgian Prince Philippe confirmed he would attend the match at Roland Garros.
While world No. 2 Clijsters was expected to overcome Russia's Nadia Petrova and reach her second final on the Parisian clay, the streets in the Belgian capital were empty in the afternoon as people watched Henin-Hardenne face Williams.
Many fans even stayed at work late to follow Henin-Hardenne's match on the internet before going out to celebrate the occasion.
"I'm hyper-happy. I jumped in the air. The Williamses are monsters. They play very well," said Frederic Bource, a 30-year-old quality control officer who was having a drink to celebrate the victory on the terrace of a Brussels bar.
Civil servant Marie-Celine Charpentier was equally enthusiastic: "It was really David and Goliath."
For Henin-Hardenne and Clijsters, Saturday will be the second time each will have a chance to walk off with a Grand Slam trophy.
The clash will be a repeat of the 2001 French Open semifinal, a match that Clijsters won to become the first Belgian Grand Slam finalist. She lost to Jennifer Capriati on that occasion.
Henin-Hardenne emulated her compatriot by reaching the Wimbledon final a few weeks later. She too came up empty-handed having been battered by Serena's elder sister Venus.
Delighted with the impact the pair are making on the global tennis map, Veerle, a 22-year-old Antwerp student, said: "Pretty soon they can move world tennis to Belgium."
Although this is the first time Belgium will have a Grand Slam winner, the country has already tasted success in the women's game by capturing the Fed Cup in 2001.
However, Henin-Hardenne believed their latest achievement will prove to be the pinnacle of Belgian tennis.
"It's unbelievable for Belgium," Henin-Hardenne said. "It is an amazing situation. It's unbelievable for a little country.
"We have never had two Belgian players in a final, so it's going to be a very special day for everyone in Belgium on Saturday. It's great."
While it is certain that most Belgians will be celebrating no matter what the outcome is on Saturday, the question remains as to whose name will be engraved on the Suzanne Lenglen trophy.
Antwerp housewife Ina Strom, 42, said: "I think Justine will win on Saturday. She played a fantastic match today while I felt Kim didn't do so well today."
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