Henin-Hardenne wins fifth major championship

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The fifth-seeded woman beat Kuznetsova 6-4, 6-4 for her third French Open title.

PARIS -- Justine Henin-Hardenne was weary and her game was awry, a product of a relentless opponent, a searing sun and the grind of trying to win a Grand Slam title on clay.

And yet, as so often in the past, Henin-Hardenne summoned a combination of will and skill at all the right moments.

It's one thing to win at your best, another to get by on an off-day, and Henin-Hardenne did the latter Saturday, beating Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-4, 6-4 to win a second consecutive French Open and third in four years.

"The difference today was a couple of points, important points. I managed those moments better, even though we might say she was more solid than I was," said Henin-Hardenne, a five-time major champion. "I play tennis because of these very close situations. This tightness -- when you're nervous, on the crucial points, on break points -- that's what I love."

It was hardly the most aesthetically pleasing match; the players combined for 68 unforced errors, 40 in the first set alone. Both women double-faulted on break point. Both were betrayed by their best shot: 2004 U.S. Open champion Kuznetsova missed 20 forehands -- five in the first game -- and Henin-Hardenne's backhand gave her fits early.

"The match today was not so good, the quality of what she did was not so good," said Carlos Rodriguez, Henin-Hardenne's coach. "But she understands now that even if she doesn't play the best match, she can still win."

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