Henin a class apart for her feats on clay
JUSTINE HENIN is just as lethal with one barrel as she was with two. The former Henin-Hardenne, who has parted company with her husband and her hyphen in the past six months, had too much withering firepower for 19-year-old Serbian Ana Ivanovic as she romped to her fourth French Open title in five years yesterday.
Her 21st successive win at Roland Garros made her only the second woman in the Open era to win the French title three years in a row, her sequence of title successes since 2003 having been interrupted only in 2004 when she was suffering from a debilitating illness.
Henin, 25, has long had one of the most admired games in tennis, with a one-handed backhand that makes traditionalists purr and a raking forehand that she herself feels is even more effective. Combine these assets with a lust for competition that is as fierce as Paris Hilton's is for publicity, plus the experience gained from nine previous Grand Slam finals, and Ivanovic's chances of upsetting the Belgian were slender from the outset.
In the event, her resistance lasted for only 65 minutes before Henin ran out a 6-1 6-2 winner to boost her career earnings of £7.2m by a further £680,000.
Henin has promised us a softer image since reflecting on life after the break-up of her marriage to Pierre-Yves Hardenne, who had been her partner for four years and her husband for four more after that. "I'm trying to be more cool," she said. "I think I can be focused as I enjoy the moment."
However, reverting to type is easily done and it was the old, hard-nosed combatant who snuffed out Ivanovic's hopes of glory on a warm afternoon.
Ivanovic started perkily enough. She broke Henin in the opening game of the match when the Belgian seemed the more nervous, a double fault handing Ivanovic her early lead. But it would be 40 more minutes before Ivanovic won another game as Henin imposed herself with the severity of her hitting that seemed to make the Serbian question her right to be on the same court as the world number one.
By the end, Ivanovic had effectively run up the white flag. Her lack of stomach for the fight was reflected in her meekly accepting the overrule that gave Henin an ace and handed the title-holder her first match point.
It was the only one Henin needed as she ran in to dispatch a forehand volley beyond Ivanovic's reach before hurling her racket aside and blowing kisses to her family in the stand.
Since splitting from her husband, Henin has become reconciled with her family, having not been on speaking terms with them for several years because of squabbles over money. "It's a different feeling now I'm back with my family," she said. "At last I have found happiness again on court."
Her two older brothers, David and Thomas, and her younger sister, Sarah, rose to applaud her and, speaking from the victory podium, she made a point of saying "Merci, Papa" - a thank-you to her father Jose, with whom she made up with a 'let's forget the past' telephone call last month.
She then turned her eyes skyward and said: "I thank who is up there for protecting me." In other words, a thank-you also to her mother, who died when she was 14.
The contrast between the two finalists as they posed for photographers before the match could hardly have been more marked. Henin, at 5ft 5in, just about managed to crack a smile while 6ft 1in Ivanovic beamed at the wonder of it all, being in her first Grand Slam final in the art-deco splendour of Court Philippe-Chatrier.
This was definitely a business assignment for Henin, while for Ivanovic, the first player to represent Serbia in a Grand Slam final (Monica Seles, a Serbian, represented Yugoslavia), it was a dream come true.
Ivanovic's nervousness first became apparent in the second game, after she had opened 40-love lead and had a total of four points for a 2-0 lead.
On one of these she struck a serve that almost landed in a line judge's lap.
If Henin needed any encouragement, she could hardly have asked for it to be transmitted to her more openly.