French Open champ wins in straight sets ... again
Two-time defending champion Justine Henin had a difficult draw at the French Open. Maybe that's why the final seemed easy, writes Greg Garber.
PARIS -- The look on Mary Pierce's face was as wooden as the Roland Garros chair that was her vantage point during Saturday's women's championship. As she fanned herself and wiped her brow in the steady sun, you had to wonder if Pierce was having flashbacks.
For she had seen this final before. Indeed, Pierce had lived it
The 2000 French Open champion was the guest of the French Tennis Federation and the choice to present the sterling silver trophy to the winner. For the fourth time in four finals, it was Justine Henin. She bludgeoned 19-year-old Serbian Ana Ivanovic 6-1, 6-2.
Two years ago, Henin ruined Pierce in the final here by a similar 6-1, 6-1 count.
"It's like my garden," Henin said. "I just feel home over here. And I always walk on the court with the goal to give my best and be ready for a tough fight. And if the match is easier than what I could expect for, that's pretty good news."
Henin, 25, has now reached 10 Grand Slam finals. And while she has won only two of six at the other three Grand Slams, she is a flawless 4-0 at Roland Garros. She has lost all of 17 games in those matches, an average score of, say, 6-2, 6-2.
In 2003, Henin's first Grand Slam victory, she blitzed Kim Clijsters 6-0, 6-4. After handling Pierce in 2005, she took out Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-4, 6-4 a year ago here. All three opponents had been to Grand Slam finals before, and yet Henin handled them with relative ease.
Henin has now won a record 17 consecutive matches at Roland Garros in straight sets. Not even Chris Evert or Stefi Graf can say that.
For a two-time defending champion, Henin had a difficult draw. Maybe that's why the final seemed easy.
"I was at the draw ceremony and I wasn't very pleased to be playing Serena [Williams] in the quarters. When you look at seven matches, pretty tough names on the road, and you have to build something day after day -- and I did."
And so, the last six finals here, going back to Serena Williams' awkward 7-5, 6-3 victory over sister Venus in 2002, have been two-and-out, straight-sets affairs. After 11 consecutive straight-sets finals at the U.S. Open, that's the second-longest streak in Grand Slams. Previously, there were seven three-set women's finals among the last 10.
Blame Henin, since three of the last four flameouts came courtesy of her.
At the outset, it didn't seem destined to happen. Ivanovic broke Henin's serve, converting the third of three break point opportunities. The teenager's forceful forehand was working and Henin actually double-faulted to give her the game.
Ivanovic, serving big, ran out to a 40-love lead and, suddenly -- eight minutes into the match -- she seemed to realize where she was. Her service toss went haywire and she couldn't hit a flat backhand to save her life.
Henin won the next eight games. In finals here, she has that effect on people.
"She's been there before," Ivanovic said. "So she knew how to deal with the nerves. And for me, that was the first time. I was a little overexcited, and maybe trying to do too much."
Henin said she, too, felt stress -- she just managed it like the champion she is.
"I believe stress is something positive," she said. "It gives you energy. Stress should not inhibit me. It should help me build something. And this is something I was able to change.
"At a certain time in my life, I was blocked by stress. And now I can make something positive out of it. I'm sure the best athletes feel the same way."
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?