Henin-Hardenne wins 3rd French Open title

The Belgian became the first woman to win two consecutive titles at Roland Garros since Steffi Graf in 1995-96.

india Updated: Jun 11, 2006 04:32 IST

Justine Henin-Hardenne won her fifth Grand Slam and her third at Roland Garros, beating Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-4, 6-4 in the French Open final on Saturday.

Seeded fifth, the Belgian became the first woman to win consecutive titles at Roland Garros since Steffi Graf in 1995-96, and the first to win three French Open titles in four years since Graf in 1993-96.

Henin-Hardenne also became the first woman to win the title without losing a set since Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in 1994. But the victory didn't come easily.

On the warmest day of the tournament, with temperatures in the 80s (27-31c) under a cloudless sky, the match almost became an endurance contest. Henin-Hardenne looked tired early in the second set and applied a bag of ice to the back of her neck during changeovers.

She struggled with her renowned backhand early but served well and took advantage of Kuznetsova's erratic forehand. Henin-Hardenne summoned some of her best tennis in the final few games, winning 11 of 12 points during one stretch.

The men's final Sunday shapes up as the match of the year, with Roger Federer seeking his fourth consecutive Grand Slam title - and his first in Paris - when he plays defending champion Rafael Nadal. "I have created a fabulous opportunity for myself," Federer said, "so we'll see if I can make it good."

Federer has won 27 consecutive Grand Slam matches; Nadal has won a record 59 matches in a row on clay.

"It's a nice match, No. 1 and No. 2," Nadal said. "He's one of the best of the history. He's a superstar of the world - not just in tennis, in all sports."

Henin-Hardenne has become a star herself, especially in Paris. She has long spoken of the tournament as her favorite - she attended Roland Garros as a child with her mother, who died when Henin-Hardenne was 12.

And on Saturday, she was again the queen of clay. The match started going Henin-Hardenne's way on the second point. Kuznetsova won it, but the chair umpire ruled the ball was deflated and ordered the point replayed.

Kuznetsova argued, went to hold the advantage on her serve but was then broken. She lost serve again in the fifth game, double-faulting twice to fall behind 4-1.

The Russian steadied her strokes and had a point for 4-all, but Henin-Hardenne rallied to hold, then served out the set two games later, helped by two service winners and an ace.

Kuznetsova won the first 10 points of the second set, then frittered away the momentum, committing unforced errors on the next four points. That helped Henin-Hardenne win eight of nine points to reach 2-all.

The Belgian played a solid game at 3-all, sneaking to the net on break point and winning it with an overhead. She broke for 4-3, held at love and served out the victory when Kuznetsova sailed a return long on the second match point.

Kuznetsova, seeded eighth, played in her first Grand Slam final since winning the 2004 US Open. She fell to 1-11 against Henin-Hardenne, including 0-4 this year and 0-4 on clay.

First Published: Jun 10, 2006 21:31 IST