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Can Henin-Hardenne build on French success?

Posted: Sunday June 08, 2003 4:11 PM
Updated: Monday June 09, 2003 12:50 AM

 
Belgium salutes champ
BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) -- The revelry surrounding Justine Henin-Hardenne moved from center court in Paris to the historic Grand Place at home.

"It's hard to find words to tell you how much this means to me," Henin-Hardenne told a cheering crowd Sunday from the balcony of the capital's 15th-century city hall.

Henin-Hardenne gave Belgium its first Grand Slam champion on Saturday, beating Kim Clijsters 6-0, 6-4 in an all-Belgian final.

She is the first sports star to receive such a city hall welcome since the Belgian soccer team -- including Clijsters' father, Leo -- returned from the semifinals of the 1986 World Cup.

"Yesterday you saw two girls fighting for their country," Henin-Hardenne told the thousands packing Grand Place. "I promise you I won't change. I'll always try to represent Belgium as best I can around the world."

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PARIS (AP) -- A French Open title can be a steppingstone to greatness.

Steffi Graf won her first Grand Slam championship at Roland Garros. So did Chris Evert, Monica Seles and Evonne Goolagong-Cawley.

And now Justine Henin-Hardenne, too. For her there may be more to come. But, at the moment, she's delighted to own just one major title.

"It's something I have, and nobody can take it away from me," she said.

Henin-Hardenne, 21, became Belgium's first Grand Slam champion Saturday by beating compatriot Kim Clijsters 6-0, 6-4. It was the most lopsided French Open final since Graf drubbed Natasha Zvereva 6-0, 6-0 in 1988.

That's especially impressive considering that Clijsters is ranked No. 2. Henin-Hardenne also beat 2002 champion Serena Williams, who is ranked No. 1 And this week the Belgian will climb one spot in the rankings to No. 3, overtaking Venus Williams.

"My next goals are the next Grand Slams and to become No. 1 in the world," Henin-Hardenne said.

Among the French Open women's champions from 1982 to 2002, only Iva Majoli in 1997 won just a single Slam. And Henin-Hardenne has already been a Wimbledon runner-up, losing the 2001 final to Venus Williams.

"I play good on grass," Henin-Hardenne said. "It's not because I win the French Open now that I will win Wimbledon. But I like playing Wimbledon, and I'll be very happy to go there."

At Wimbledon next month -- and at every other major event -- the player to beat remains Serena Williams. A hostile French crowd played a role in her loss in the semifinals, and she has still won 33 of her past 34 matches in Grand Slam tournaments.

She's sure to be eager to avenge that defeat next month. And her sister, two-time Wimbledon champion Venus, remains a threat too.

Still, Henin-Hardenne is a welcome addition to the fray. The 5-foot-5, 125-pound Belgian doesn't hit as hard as the Williams sisters -- no woman does -- but she moves well and possesses the game's most picturesque backhand.

"It's good to believe that power is not everything," she said. "I'm not so tall, I'm not so strong, but I can win. It makes me a little bit more proud."

One key to Henin-Hardenne's success is her knack for placing shots near the lines, which keeps opponents on the run, on their heels or both.

"Even in a defensive position, she can still get the balls within like maybe five centimeters of the baseline and make you work all over," Clijsters said. "That's why she's so good on the clay court."

Henin-Hardenne attended the 1992 Roland Garros women's final at age 10 and told her mother at the time, "One day I'll be on this court, and maybe I'll win."

The French Open has long been her favorite tournament and clay her best surface. That doesn't mean she can't win a major title on grass or hardcourts. But if she reaches the late rounds, a Williams most likely will be waiting.


 
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