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Henin-Hardenne wins third major

2/2/2004

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Justine Henin-Hardenne won her third
Grand Slam title and extended her dominance in major finals against
countrywoman Kim Clijsters with a 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 win in Saturday's
Australian Open women's title match.

Henin-Hardenne consistently beat Clijsters with one-fisted
backhand shots, extending her unbeaten streak against her fellow
Belgian to three Grand Slam finals. The victory assured
Henin-Hardenne of keeping her No. 1 ranking.

"It was really emotional, both of us were really nervous,"
Henin-Hardenne said. "I have three Grand Slam titles now, it's
wonderful."

Henin-Hardenne, who beat Clijsters to win the French Open and
U.S. Open titles last year, broke in the second and fourth games of
the deciding set.

Clijsters broke back at 1-4, held and then got back on serve
with a backhand winner down the line.

She had two game points while trying to level the set at 4-4,
but double-faulted both times.

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, before chair umpire Sandra
De Jenken of France overruled and called it out after
Henin-Hardenne complained.

Television 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 an ace on her first serve.

Henin-Hardenne spun her racket in the air and slumped to her knees,
crouching with both hands over her face. She stood up and raised
both arms in the air before meeting and kissing Clijsters at the
net.

"I want to congratulate Kim for a wonderful tournament,"
Henin-Hardenne said. "She wasn't sure she could play and she did
and she fought a lot, so congratulations for this unbelievable
tournament."

Henin-Hardenne walked back onto the court with both arms raised
triumphantly. Both women were in the Australian Open final for the
first time and it was Henin-Hardenne's third major title in the
last four Grand Slams. Wimbledon now stands as the only major title
she hasn't won.

Clijsters injured her left ankle at the Hopman Cup three weeks
ago and was questionable for Melbourne Park. She was bothered by
the ankle in two previous matches, but showed no signs of pain in
the final.

"I think she played a great final and in the end she was too
good, so well done," said Clijsters, who is 0-4 in Grand Slam
finals. "This has been an incredible two weeks for me, 2½ weeks
ago I didn't think I'd be able to play."

Clijsters and Henin-Hardenne have been friends since junior
tournaments. They have split 18 matches on tour, but Henin-Hardenne
leads 3-2 in Grand Slam matches.

Henin-Hardenne appeared to be in complete control after taking
the first set 6-3 and going up 4-2 in the second. But Clijsters ran
off the next four games to take the second set 6-4, the first
Henin-Hardenne dropped in the tournament. The opening set was the
first Clijsters had lost in the tournament.

As the fiancee of Australia's Lleyton Hewitt, Clijsters clearly
had the packed center-court crowd behind her. Her sprained ankle
didn't appear to bother her.

She was first on the court after every changeover. Henin-Hardenne
spent as much time as possible in the shade behind the baseline,
slowing down her opponent's momentum.

Henin-Hardenne pulled ahead 4-2 in the second set as Clijsters,
serving at deuce, hit a backhand crosscourt wide to set up break
point. Henin-Hardenne then nailed a backhand pass down the line.

But Clijsters broke back in the next game. Henin-Hardenne, who
hadn't yielded more than two points in her service games, hit a
backhand into the net to give Clijsters two break points at 15-40.
She saved one with her second ace, then dumped a drop shot into the
net.

After Clijsters held to level the set at 4-4, Henin-Hardenne got
herself into trouble with her second double-fault at 30-30.
Clijsters then hit a good forehand deep in the corner that
Henin-Hardenne returned long to give Clijsters a 5-4 edge.

Clijsters fended off one break point in the next game at 30-40.
Henin-Hardenne saved one set point with a swinging forehand winner
off Clijsters' lunging lob. But Clijsters hit a forehand winner
down the line at deuce, then won the game when Henin-Hardenne
return of serve went into the net.

Just before the match, officials opened the roof over Rod Laver
Arena after early morning rain.

Henin-Hardenne finished with 30 winners and 38 unforced errors.
Clijsters had 12 winners and 43 unforced errors, winning points
only half of the 28 times she went to the net.