At her best when it mattered most

Justine Henin-Hardenne is the best clay-court player in the world and proved it by winning her second straight French Open title. Mary Joe Fernandez explains that when it mattered most, Henin-Hardenne was at her best.

Updated: June 10, 2006, 3:56 PM ET
By Mary Joe Fernandez | Special to ESPN.com

PARIS -- Justine Henin-Hardenne looked really determined and very focused. She came into the French Open without having won a clay-court title this year, which was surprising in itself because she is the best clay-court player in the world. But she still has the faith and confidence that she is going to be better than her opponent on the big occasion.

In the final, she played the big points well; there was not a lot between her and Svetlana Kuznetsova, but when it mattered most, Henin-Hardenne got it done. At 5-4 in the first set she hit three huge serves to close out the set. In the second, she was allowed to get back in the set by Kuznetsova. Once she had that opportunity she raised the level of her game. She got aggressive, came to the net and that's what champions do -- they find ways to win when things aren't going well. She's now proven she's right up there with the other great players. She didn't blow Kuznetsova off the court, but Henin-Hardenne was mentally tougher. Kuznetsova, when she had to, couldn't put the ball in the court.

Most French Open titles since 1925
Player Titles
Chris Evert 7
Steffi Graf 6
Margaret Smith Court 5
Helen Wills Moody 4
Justine Henin-Hardenne 3
Monica Seles 3
Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario 3
Hilde Sperling 3

Henin-Hardenne is so determined and intense that this could be the start of a win streak similar to last year (when she won three straight clay-court tournaments before the French Open). She's that good.

Everything has been wide open in the women's game, but when you have to pick the top two or three players to win a major, Henin-Hardenne is always going to be in that discussion. She's reached the Australian Open final, won the French and I think she'll be the favorite going into Wimbledon. Besides the last two winners at Wimbledon, Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova, you have to give Henin-Hardenne a shot right up there with them.

Mary Joe Fernandez won 7 singles and 17 doubles titles during her 15-year career on the WTA Tour. She is providing ESPN.com with analysis throughout the French 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.