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Henin-Hardenne, Clijsters reach US Open final

Justine Henin-Hardenne scrambled to win a thrilling US Open semifinal 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (4) on Friday after Jennifer Capriati twice served for the match.

india Updated: Sep 06, 2003 11:07 IST

Justine Henin-Hardenne scrambled to win a thrilling US Open semifinal 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (4) past midnight on Friday after Jennifer Capriati twice served for the match.

By the time Henin-Hardenne emerged victorious, she gave herself 19 1/2 hours to recover to meet fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters in their first US Open final on Saturday.

"I gave everything I had," Henin-Hardenne said. "I was cramping. Serving was very hard. I did my best. I could have lost this match. I am very happy."

"It's very late. I need a good sleep."

Said Capriati: "It hurts."

No. 1-ranked Clijsters dominated dispirited former champion Lindsay Davenport 6-2, 6-3 in the first semifinal. The championship match will be a rematch of the French Open final, which Henin-Hardenne won, but it's hard to imagine it will provide the theater and shotmaking that Henin-Hardenne and Capriati produced, even as both were fighting leg cramps.

There was the stab lob Capriati came up with to thwart a smash and set up a winner that put her a point away from winning the first set. There was the crosscourt backhand passing shot from an impossible angle that Henin-Hardenne used to break in the first game of the third set.

There was Capriati's running, across-her-body forehand winner down the line to set up a break point which she converted for a 3-1 edge in the deciding set.

And, in the end, there was the pretty forehand passing shot hit by second-seeded Henin-Hardenne which No. 6 Capriati could only put into the net on the final point.

Henin-Hardenne dropped to the ground and covered her head, before rising to go to the net. Capriati gave her a halfhearted handshake. It could be tough for Capriati, a master of comebacks, to recover from this loss. She served for the match at 5-3 in the second set, and again at 5-3 in the third. Nine times, she was within two points of victory, but couldn't clinch it.

The women's final four was moved to Friday night for the first time because of a week full of rain which delayed the schedule. Arthur Ashe Stadium was about half-full, but the partisan fans did their best to spur on Capriati in a match which lasted 3 hours, 3 minutes.

It could have finished much earlier.

Henin-Hardenne broke to 5-4 in the second set on another spectacular point. She hit a short shot, and Capriati made a long run to get it, flicking up a desperation backhand lob that landed just inside the baseline. Henin-Hardenne somehow got to that, turned and hit a desperation lob of her own that also barely landed in. Switching directions to give chase with her back to the net, Capriati put her racket on the ball, but it landed out. That was part of a six-game run which gave Henin-Hardenne the second set and a 1-0 lead in the third.

Capriati was a bit out of sorts at the outset, too, vehemently arguing a call in the third game which TV replays appeared to show was correct. "It was this far out! This far out!" Capriati yelled, holding her index fingers a few centimeters apart. Capriati lost her serve in that game and the fifth of the match to fall behind 4-1, the second break coming on a superb forehand return winner by Henin-Hardenne. But Capriati got her first break point of the match in the ensuing game and converted it when Henin-Hardenne jerked a forehand long.

That opened a run of five straight games for Capriati to end the first set, but not without more fireworks.

With Henin-Hardenne serving and ahead 4-3 at deuce, Capriati thought one of the Belgian's shots during a long rally landed out. When the point ended with a Henin-Hardenne drop shot, Capriati kicked the ball, then pointed at her eyes as she stomped toward the line judge. On the very next point _ which could have given the Belgian a 5-3 edge _ Henin-Hardenne sent a forehand near the baseline and, when there was no "Out" call, Capriati spun around, dropped her racket, and put her hands on her head. Then she waved her arms and screamed at the line judge.

During Capriati's display, the chair umpire overruled, saying the ball was out. That pleased Capriati _ although a TV replay showed the ball did indeed catch the line.

By now, Capriati was marking almost each point she won by gritting her teeth and pumping her fist in the direction of the guest box, where her father, brother and "Friends" TV star Matthew Perry were sitting.

Henin-Hardenne's celebrations were more muted, but she also looked to her box for encouragement, and threw uppercuts after the best of points.

In what amounted to an appetizer before the gourmet meal, Clijsters broke Davenport's serve four times in the first set alone and six times overall, all the while playing fantastic defensive tennis.

It helped that 1998 US Open champion Davenport _ who slumped in her chair after the first set _ made 35 unforced errors, 19 more than Clijsters.

Clijsters drew yells of "oooh" from the fans when she would stretch out to reach a ball, extending her legs in opposite directions along the baseline. Perhaps Clijsters inherited the skill _ her mother was a gymnast.

"The splits? Against Lindsay I had to use them a lot," Clijsters said. "They help sometimes, not all the time." It was the first time since 1999 that Davenport lost at the Open to someone other than Serena or Venus Williams. Davenport, seeded No. 3, must have figured this would be a fantastic chance to win a fourth Grand Slam title, with both sisters out injured. Henin-Hardenne and Clijsters, of course, are aware of that opportunity, too.

First Published: Sep 06, 2003 11:07 IST