Sun, Feb 01, 2004 - Page 24 News List

Henin-Hardenne takes Open

AUSTRALIAN OPEN FINAL With both players plagued by jitters and unforced errors, Henin-Hardenne overcame a mid-match lapse to beat Clijsters 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 to stay No. 1

AP , MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA

Belgium's Justine Henin-Hardenne falls to the court as she celebrates her win in the women's singles final against compatriot Kim Clijsters at the Australian Open in Melbourne, Australia, yesterday. It was her third consecutive Grand Slam championship. Henin-Hardenne won in three sets 6-3, 4-6, 6-3.

PHOTO: AP

Three Grand Slam finals in eight months, three victories.

Justine Henin-Hardenne added the Australian Open title to her collection Saturday, leaving fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters as the bridesmaid again. Then she set her sights on the only major to elude her: Wimbledon.

"It's wonderful," Henin-Hardenne said.

Roger Federer, who took the men's top ranking by beating Juan Carlos Ferrero in the semifinals Friday, will try to end Marat Safin's comeback from injury in Sunday's singles final.

Clijsters, who watched fiance Lleyton Hewitt lose to Roger Federer in the fourth round after a foot-fault call turned the momentum, saw her rally ended by a controversial call, too.

After looking tight in dropping the first set and falling behind 4-2 in the second, Clijsters clawed her way back into the match, winning four straight games to force a deciding third set.

Again she stumbled, losing her serve twice to fall behind 4-0. And again she rallied, breaking Henin-Hardenne twice to pull within 4-3. With the crowd cheering her, she had game points twice on her next service game, but double-faulted each time.

Clijsters sent a backhand volley out to give Henin-Hardenne a break point and then smacked a swinging forehand that was originally called good at the baseline, but chair umpire Sandra De Jenken of France overruled and called it out after Henin-Hardenne complained.

TV replays appeared to show the ball barely catching the line.

Henin-Hardenne, serving at 5-3, closed it out in 1 hour, 47 minutes with a first serve that Clijsters couldn't return.

Both women, friends have known each other since they were 10, resisted being drawn into a controversy over the controversial call, though Henin-Hardenne said she thought the ball was just long and Clijsters said she was disappointed and felt she had hit a winner.

"I'm not the type of player that's going to start complaining after matches," Clijsters said. ``Nothing I can do about it now.''

But she said she might support having some kind of replay system in the future.

"That's what they do in the cricket," Clijsters said. "It could have been the other way around today as well."

De Jenken said she had "absolutely no doubt about the call I made."

"And afterwards, the two people working on the scores down at courtside told me it was an excellent call," she said.

Henin-Hardenne, who beat Clijsters to win the 2003 French Open and US Open titles, consistently whipped winners with her backhand, one of the best in the women's game.

She finished with 30 winners and 38 unforced errors. Clijsters had just 12 winners and 43 unforced errors.

"I just tried to stay focussed on every point. But game after game, I was feeling more nervous," said Henin-Hardenne. "I'm not afraid of anyone, but sometimes I'm afraid of myself. The mental part is very important.

"Being stronger physically helps, and being stronger in my head."

After match point, she spun her racket in the air and slumped to her knees, crouching with both hands over her face.

"I was feeling free of all the pressure. I usually never show my emotions. It was too much today, I had to," Henin-Hardenne said. "Going into a Grand Slam as No. 1 seed for the first time -- I didn't play well in the first few matches.

"Finally, when I had to, I played my game. It's been a lot for me, I'm tired. I'm going to have a week off."

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