Line calls played a role

Updated: January 31, 2004, 1:48 AM ET
By Pam Shriver | Special to

MELBOURNE, Australia -- For the first set and a half of the Australian Open women's final, it really looked like more of the same from the dueling Belgians.

Justine Henin-Hardenne played as flawless as you can under pressure, while Clijsters hit too many unforced errors and not enough winners.

However, line calls also played a role in the match, which you hate to see in the final of any major. A couple went against Clijsters in the first set, and in the entire match, two of the four bad calls were on break points against her. Another came in the last game on a big-swinging forehand volley at a crucial point. The calls certainly factored into her loss.

Line calls aside, Clijsters' two double faults hurt her when she had a chance to level the third set at 4-all. When she got back in the match, she waffled again. Henin-Hardenne also blinked, though, when she was up one set and 4-2 in the second. She choked again when she was up two breaks in the third set and and lost them both. Still, in the end, Henin-Hardenne was the tougher player here as she won 6-3, 4-6, 6-3.

Clijsters continues to show what a great sportswoman she is in the way she shook the chair umpire's hand despite the bad calls and handled her postmatch press conference. For her sake, I hope she doesn't get discouraged by these losses but keeps fighting. Because when the Williams sisters get back the women's tour won't get any easier, and Clijsters is too good not to win one of these championships.

With three major titles, Henin-Hardenne has now won as many as Lindsay Davenport and Jennifer Capriati, and she's only 21 years old. She's got room to improve, and she's looking to do just that. She's trying to make her second serve bigger and her forehand into a greater weapon, and she's looking to stay in the best shape on the tour. People will have to reckon with her abilities and her hunger.

And Henin-Hardenne will not evaporate into thin air even when the Williams sisters get back. She choked at two points in this match and still managed to win. She never gets down. She fights hard even when she's fighting her demons. It's really admirable.

This was the most emotional, dramatic final we've had since Jennifer Capriati fought off four championship points two years ago. The Williams sisters finals were less than dramatic, and Henin-Hardenne and Clijsters two previous finals were terrible. So, after the poor field in this tournament, it was great to end it with a match that had you locked in.

This tournament will never be a classic, but the final will be memorable.

ESPN tennis analyst Pam Shriver won 21 singles and 112 doubles crowns, including 22 Grand Slam titles.

A top player on the women's tennis tour more than 15 years, Pam Shriver hosts ESPN's women's tennis telecasts. She also appears as a sideline reporter on select men's matches.