Henin-Hardenne in final on defense, mental toughness

Updated: January 27, 2006, 3:37 AM ET
By Mary Joe Fernandez | Special to ESPN.com

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Mentally, Justine Henin-Hardenne is really tough, and we overlook that sometimes. When it comes to mental toughness, we think of Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, but Henin-Hardenne is right up there.

In her semifinal against Sharapova, Henin-Hardenne lost the first set (for the second straight round), but she didn't panic. She realized Sharapova was playing really well and was taking it to her, so Henin-Hardenne got more aggressive.

Justine has the ability to defend so well, so her opponents know they have to hit those extra three or four shots in a rally. And if you give her anything, she'll attack. She's similar to Kim Clijsters in that they are both able to play great defense and turn a point around with a single swing of the racket.

Against Sharapova, Henin-Hardenne got tight trying to close it out in the third set, but bounced back. She's one of the few players who admits to the nerves, but has learned how to overcome and play through them. By getting that out there, Henin-Hardenne actually takes pressure off herself.

What's amazing to me about Henin-Hardenne is that she's had to come back from an illness, a knee injury and now a hamstring injury. Last year she came back after missing the start of the season, then won four straight tournaments, including the French Open. Then she stopped playing in October and took seven weeks off.

She came down here earlier in the month, won in Sydney (at the Medibank International), and now she's in the final. Henin-Hardenne is someone who can be away from the game for periods of time, then return and play competitively at such a high level.

In the final between Henin-Hardenne and Amelie Mauresmo, you have the two most athletic and versatile players on the tour who happen to have the two best one-handed backhands.

I love watching them because it's almost like a chess match -- they're trying to outthink each other. Can Mauresmo win her first Grand Slam or will the pressure get to her?

Mauresmo has been playing well enough to win, but mentally the advantage goes to Henin-Hardenne.

Mary Joe Fernandez won seven singles and 17 doubles titles during her 15-year career on the WTA Tour. She is providing ESPN.com with analysis throughout the Australian Open.

Professional tennis player Mary Joe Fernandez serves as an analyst on women's tennis events for ESPN and ESPN2. Born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Miami, Fernandez has enjoyed a successful career on the WTA Tour since 1985.

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