Henin last won a title at the Athens Olympics

Updated: April 17, 2005, 8:57 PM ET
Associated Press

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Former No. 1 Justine Henin-Hardenne showed she's back in top form Sunday, beating second-seeded Elena Dementieva 7-5, 6-4 to win the Family Circle Cup in her second tournament since returning from illness and injury.

"I won 20 tournaments in my career and this one is very special because it is after such a long, hard time," Henin-Hardenne said. "It's been very emotional for me today because I come from something really bad, very bad experience last year."

The Belgian, ranked No. 43 in the world, raised her racket high in the air and then pumped her fists after closing out Dementieva, ranked No. 5.

Later the players, who have practiced together in the past, kissed each other on the cheek as they met at the net before Henin-Hardenne collected the crystal cup that goes to the winner.

Henin-Hardenne spent most of last year ranked No. 1, winning the Australian Open and gold at the Athens Olympics. But after the U.S. Open, she suffered a viral illness and then a knee injury while practicing in late December. Her first match back was last month's Nasdaq-100 Open, where she made it to the quarterfinals.

Henin-Hardenne, who will now move up to No. 22 in the world rankings, became only the second unseeded player to win the Family Circle Cup in the $1.3 million tournament's 32-year history. Iva Majoli did it three years ago.

The champion, who takes home $189,000, also won her second Family Circle Cup title in as many appearances. Henin-Hardenne beat Serena Williams in the final two years ago and is now 11-0 in matches played on the green clay on Daniel Island.

Henin-Hardenne fell behind 5-3 in the first set before winning four straight games.

In the second, she went up 4-1 before Dementieva battled back to tie it at 4-all. Dementieva, serving the next game, built a 40-15 lead but Henin-Hardenne broke her and then held serve in the next game to take the match.

"She was playing unbelievable today. In the second set, you know, I just missed a great chance to make it 5-4 for me on my serve," Dementieva said.

"Justine, she plays even better than she was before her illness," she added.

For Henin-Hardenne, winning the Family Circle was a bit of a surprise.

"I never thought about winning this tournament when I arrived here," she said. "I could never imagine that I would play this level for my first tournament on clay and then win this tournament."

For Dementieva, Sunday was another round of frustration against Henin-Hardenne. The two have faced each other eight times, with Henin-Hardenne winning seven. The only match the Russian won was at Amelia Island, Fla., two years ago.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

ALSO SEE