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Henin-Hardenne makes it a no-contest

PARIS: Justine Henin-Hardenne of Belgium produced a flawless display of claycourt tennis to defeat France's Mary Pierce 6-1, 6-1 here on Saturday for her second French Open title.

The winner here previously in 2003, it was Henin-Hardenne's fourth Grand Slam title alongside the 2003 U.S. Open and the 2004 Australian Open. The 10th seed was the lowest seed ever to win the women's title in Paris.

In what was a totally one-sided final, Henin-Hardenne ran off nine games in a row from 0-1 down in the first set to take the sting out of the big-hitting Pierce and silence her fans in the crowd.

Magnificent

``It's magnificent, magic,'' said the 23-year-old Henin-Hardenne.

``I tried to put the pressure on her from the start and it worked.''

The 30-year-old Pierce said that she had a great tournament but had played badly on the day. The final brought together two players who this time last year were both facing crisis-points in their careers as sportswomen.

Henin-Hardenne was entering a long period of doubt due to a debilitating viral condition that sent her to the sidelines, while Pierce, the 2000 winner here, was considering retirement as she battled with injuries and weight problems.

But both dug deep to claw their way back, Henin-Hardenne winning her three tournaments prior to Paris and Pierce blossoming again in front of a Paris public that jeered her off the court just two years ago.

Henin-Hardenne had struggled though her early games, saving two-match points in the fourth round against Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Pierce blasted a path through to the final including a straight sets walloping of top seed Lindsay Davenport in the quarterfinals. But in three previous matches between the two the Belgian had yet to drop a set.

Crackling atmosphere

With a crackling atmosphere in the Roland Garros centre court, packed with French and Belgian fans, Pierce started by comfortably winning her opening service game.

But then her dream quickly turned into a nightmare as Henin Hardenne rattled off 14 points in a row to drive into a 4-1 lead with two breaks of serve.

Pierce's big groundstrokes were proving to be no problem for the speedy Belgian and in return she was disconcerting Pierce with her trademark backhand and forehand drives.

The Belgian wrapped up the set in 24 minutes two games later with Pierce having won just a measly six points.

With rain threatening, Pierce tried to step up her attacks at the start of the second set but let slip a break point when she sent a relatively easy forehand wide. She then missed an easy smash at the net to drop serve once again and go 2-0 down.

Henin-Hardenne eased into a 3-0 lead before Pierce finally managed to win a second game, but it was another struggle on her own serve.

At 1-4 down and serving, Pierce tried to unsettle her opponent by sending up a series of moon-balls, but the former World No.1 was having none of it and she broke again to serve for the title.

An ace set up match point and a backhand from Pierce into the net finished it off in one hour and two minutes.

Nadal makes final

Meanwhile, Spanish sensation Rafael Nadal celebrated his 19th birthday in stunning style on Friday when he crushed Roger Federer's dream of Grand Slam history with a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 win to storm into the men's singles final.

The victory was also Nadal's 23rd in a row in a season which has already seen him claim five clay-court titles. "It's incredible to be in the final and beat the number one in the world," said Nadal.

A strangely subdued and tentative Federer never settled into a rhythm in an error-strewn opening set losing his service four times on the Philippe Chatrier Court. He was broken in the first and fifth games as he quickly fell 4-1 down with point after point being given away by a succession of wild forehands. Federer broke back to 2-4 but then was broken again to slip 2-5 down with another loose forehand.

Nadal too struggled to truly impose himself. He squandered two set points as he surrendered the next service game to lead 5-3 but, incredibly, the world number one was unable to take advantage of this lifeline.

Federer was broken again in the decisive ninth game when he netted a simple volley and the opening set was Nadal's after 34 minutes.

It was the first time in this year's tournament that the top seed had dropped a set but, in keeping with his position as the best player of his generation, he was soon back in control. Two breaks took him to 4-1 and a love service game made it 5-1 before Nadal stopped the rot in the eighth game to cut the deficit to 3-5.

However, Federer levelled the tie by taking the second set 6-4 when Nadal netted a backhand return.

The Spaniard then edged ahead with a break, courtesy of a vicious smash, to lead 4-2 in the third but was unable to hammer home his advantage by handing the break back in the seventh game.

However, in the 10th game, Nadal pinned back Federer behind the baseline on his third set point and unleashed a brutal, running forehand to clinch the third set 6-4. — Agencies

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