Henin will be in a comfortable place come Saturday
After skipping the Australian Open earlier this season, Justine Henin has found the groove. And come Saturday, she will try for her fourth title at Roland Garros, the slam closest to her heart.
PARIS -- Like the fog in Carl Sandburg's famous poem, Justine Henin comes whispering in on little cat feet:
Phht. Phht. Phht. Phht. Phht. Phht
And then, the 5-foot-5, 126-pound champion puts the hammer down:
This is the sound of Henin's intricate -- and historically successful -- choreography on the red clay of Roland Garros. On Thursday, the 25-year-old Belgian humiliated Jelena Jankovic 6-2, 6-2 and advanced to her third straight French Open final.
Ana Ivanovic, the Serbian teenager, will be Saturday's opponent after thrashing Maria Sharapova 6-2, 6-1.
"She just played really well, flawless," Jankovic said. "I just couldn't find my game."
The last three times the two players met on clay Henin won, but in three sets. This was Roland Garros, however, not Charleston or Warsaw or Berlin.
"It was perfect," Henin said, without a trace of arrogance.
Henin, along with Sharapova, has the reputation of possessing one of the most powerful wills on the women's side. Jankovic, whose disarming, laughing manner was even in evidence in her postmatch interview, will be the No. 3-ranked player, a career high, next week. The 22-year-old has won more matches than any other woman this year, but mental toughness is a weapon she needs to develop.
In fact, Henin called Jankovic "psychologically weak" after her quarterfinal win over Serena Williams.
Henin, whose eyes grow impossibly wide when the ball approaches her racket, attacked from the beginning. Jankovic fell into a tentative mode, from which she never escaped.
Jankovic was serving at 1-2 when Henin got the first service break of the match. A backhand volley found the net and the first set was effectively lost. On set point, Jankovic hit a soft second serve woefully long. The second serve, the window to a tennis player's psyche, failed Jankovic for the entire match. Henin later acknowledged that Jankovic's serve was her "weakness." Jankovic won only 43 percent of the points on her serve, a dreary number.
With Henin leading 4-2 in the second set, she temporarily relaxed and made a few uncharacteristic errors. Jankovic actually had a break point to get back on serve, but an elegant, all-out backhand from Henin forced a loose bankhand in return by Jankovic. A too-forceful forehand gave Henin the game.
The final game featured two double-faults by Jankovic and, at the end, another overwrought forehand. As Henin jogged to the net, she caught the eye of her coach, Carlos Rodriguez, and waved her finger in the universal No. 1 sign.
"This was one of the most beautiful, strategic matches I have ever seen her play," Rodriguez said later. "Maybe Jelena didn't play her best, but Justine pushed her not to play her best.
"This was a very difficult match to prepare for, because [Jankovic] doesn't give up."
Henin sounded surprised when Rodriquez's comments were relayed to her.
"It's not very often Carlos is saying good things about me," she said, "so I will enjoy this moment for one second."
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Henin said she tried to open up the court to take advantage of Jankovic's aggressive play.
"I played pretty heavy on her forehand," Henin said. "And she didn't like that much.
"I just showed her I wanted to win this match."
Henin will find herself in an extremely comfortable place come Saturday. This will be her fourth final on Court Philippe Chatrier, the Grand Slam closest to her childhood home -- and to her heart. Her mother brought her here as a young girl and she came to love the tournament.
After skipping the Australian Open to deal with the divorce of her husband, Pierre-Yves Hardenne, Henin is unhyphenated and in a groove again. History beckons. A win on Sunday would give her four championships at Roland Garros. Only Evert (seven), Graf (six), and Margaret Court (five) would have more titles.
"Let's wait [and see] what's going to happen on Saturday," Henin said. "But it's an honor that a lot of people are talking about me like that. It's a long story.
"There was a dream for me to win it one time. And then I did it three times. And I have another opportunity. But I still have a lot of things to do to win a fourth time. So we'll see."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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2007 FRENCH OPEN
May 27-June 10
Women: Justine Henin
Men: Rafael Nadal
• Henin wins third straight title
• DeSimone: Henin's personal journey
• Garber: Third set hard to come by in final
• Top 10 facts about Henin
• Federer-Nadal daily watch
• Making the case for Rafa, Roger
• It's Federer vs. Nadal in French Open final
• Garber: Another record for Roger
• DeSimone: Rafa rolling toward third final
• DeSimone: Ivanovic coach-free for final
• Who will win women's final?