'The story of my life'
Serena struggles to deal with harsh treatment from crowdPosted: Thursday June 05, 2003 8:02 PM
PARIS, June 5 (Reuters) -- Justine Henin-Hardenne and a hostile Parisian crowd reduced Serena Williams to tears and shattered her Grand Slam dominance at the French Open on Thursday.
The Belgian, aided by partisan centre court fans, created history by guaranteeing the new Roland Garros champion will be Belgian -- a first for France's neighbors. She meets Kim Clijsters in the title match.
It was a win which was greeted with euphoria by supporters who had gone overboard at times, cheering the champion's double faults and leaving the American distraught.
"It was a tough crowd out there ... the story of my life," Serena said before breaking down in tears.
Wiping her eyes, she sobbed: "I am not used to crying, I am sorry.
"I can get up here and say 'You know, I can do it ... it is easy'. But deep down it kind of hurts.
"It is just difficult when people are booing and screaming in between points.
"It's just difficult. It was a fight, that's all. I am going to have to learn how to win.
"Got to keep smiling ... I think if you keep smiling, things work out."
Henin-Hardenne meets Clijsters in Saturday's final after the second seed had earlier beaten Russian Nadia Petrova 7-5, 6-1.
It will be a repeat of the 2001 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, losing to Venus Williams.
But Thursday there was no denying the waif-like blonde, who tormented world No. 1 Serena.
The American had not lost in a Grand Slam since the 2001 U.S. Open final to Venus and did not take defeat too well.
She offered the most cursory of congratulations to fourth seed Henin-Hardenne before walking off court with jeers, boos and whistles still ringing in her ears.
"She wasn't very happy, but that is sport ... that is tennis," Henin-Hardenne said.
"She has had lots of chances recently. It's about time she gave others a chance."
The tension throughout the two hours, 20-minute encounter was palpable as both players struggled to keep their nerves under control.
The Belgian ripped through the first set, flailing her famed backhand to great effect.
Serena countered in the second set, crunching winners past her opponent and using her impressive physique to muscle the ball for winners.
In the third set, it was nerves which decided the winner.
Neither player could hold serve with any regularity, sharing six breaks up to 5-5.
At that point, though, the Belgian stepped up, broke Serena for a 6-5 lead and then served out to love.
The partisan Parisian crowd had been willing her to victory and greeted it with little short of delirium.
The 21-year-old raised her arms in the air and pumped them as the crowd did likewise, tears glistening in her eyes.
"There are no words to describe what I was feeling on court," she said. "The crowd were behind me 100 percent."
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