Resilient Henin takes U.S. Open title

NEW YORK Sept. 7. A resilient Justine Henin-Hardenne beat error-prone Kim Clijsters 7-5, 6-1 for the U.S. Open championship on Saturday night and won her second Grand Slam title of the year.

Henin-Hardenne flattened her Belgian countrywoman in 81 minutes, less than 18 hours after sitting dehydrated on a table in the trainer's room at the U.S. Open receiving intravenous fluids.

Late on Saturday afternoon, she was on a practice court, trying to gauge whether she was fit enough to play in her first U.S. Open final a few hours later.

Henin-Hardenne proved she was in a sell-out Arthur Ashe Stadium, fighting off two set points in the first set, and otherwise being in control.

Of course, that was nothing compared to the 10 times she was within two points of losing to Jennifer Capriati in their thriller of a semifinal the night before.

``Justine just played a great match today,'' Clijsters said. ``She was just too good, especially after playing that great match against Jennifer last night — the best match I've seen all year.''

Against Clijsters, Henin-Hardenne won nine of the last 10 games and broke serve six times, including in the last game, which ended with a clean volley winner.

``I've always been a great fighter,'' Henin-Hardenne said. ``I always thought the first win in a Grand Slam would be the most important one, but this is amazing.''

It was a rematch of the French Open final, which Henin-Hardenne also won in straight sets.

She now leads the tour with seven titles in 2003, one more than No. 1-ranked Clijsters, and moves up to a career-high No. 2 in the rankings, sliding past the injured Serena Williams.

Playing much the way she did at Roland Garros Clijsters got off to a terrible start.

Henin-Hardenne jumped out to a 3-0 lead by winning 12 of the first 15 points, thanks to Clijsters' nine unforced errors in that span.

Clijsters finally won a game with help from Henin-Hardenne, whose double-fault made it 3-1.

And Clijsters evened things at 4-4 when Henin-Hardenne gave up another break by dumping a forehand into the net.

Clijsters held to 5-4 with a wonderful sequence where she blocked an overhead with a reflex backhand, then reversed course and swept into the doubles alley to stretch for a clean forehand winner. It was a rare moment of beautiful tennis.

But she had the two set points in the next game and couldn't convert, stymied in part by Henin-Hardenne's first clean winner off her backhand, which John McEnroe has called the prettiest shot in all of tennis.

That began a run of seven consecutive games for Henin-Hardenne, who used a great return to set up a backhand down the line to break to 6-5, then held to win the first set when Clijsters put a forehand in the net.

Clijsters never recovered. Henin-Hardenne was too determined to let her.

Roddick roars back

Juan Carlos Ferrero knocked Andre Agassi out 6-4, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 on Saturday, and will replace him as the world's top-ranked man in the new rankings this week.

``To be at No. 1, it's a special day for me,'' Ferrero said. ``I am playing good. I have a lot of confidence. I can do every shot.''

Ferrero will next face No. 4 Andy Roddick, who rallied from two sets down to beat exhausted David Nalbandian 6-7 (4), 3-6, 7-6 (7), 6-1, 6-3 and reached his first Grand Slam final.

Roddick showed real grit, erasing a match point in the third set en route to his season-leading 18th straight victory. He's 36-2 since teaming with coach Brad Gilbert, Agassi's former mentor, after a first-round exit at the French Open.

Ferrero, the reigning French Open champion, was inspired in his first match at the Arthur Ashe Stadium and appeared to be fresher than Agassi, who had two extra days off during a rain-delayed week at Flushing Meadows.

Remarkably, he outslugged Agassi from the baseline, all the while zipping from corner to corner with the speed that earned the nickname ``Mosquito.'' No shot was more spectacular than one through his legs with his back to the net in the third set. Agassi volleyed that back, and Ferrero switched directions and sprinted up for a crosscourt forehand passing winner.

Roddick lost the first set despite compiling 14 aces, and after sending a return long to lose the second set, he tossed aside his racket as he plopped down in his courtside chair. About the most fight Roddick displayed early came while he was sitting during the initial changeover of the third set, getting a callus on his right foot sprayed and wrapped. Upset at the length of the delay, Nalbandian — who had his left wrist heavily taped earlier — went out on court to wait. That prompted Roddick to snap: ``Don't worry. I'm playing.''

Later in that set, Roddick yelled at chair umpire Andreas Egli for not overruling a call on a double-fault. Roddick saved the true tirade for the next changeover.

``The calls have been bad all day. Terrible. I have not said one word all day,'' Roddick said, his voice rising. ``Step up!''

The outburst appeared to fire him up. Nalbandian's match point came at 6-5 in the third-set tiebreaker, but Roddick erased that with a 138 mph (222 kph) service winner. Roddick followed with a 136 mph (218 kph) ace for a 7-6 edge and his second set point, which he wasted with a forehand into the net.

But Nalbandian netted a backhand on a rally during which a fan called ``Out!'' — the Argentine complained to the chair umpire about the distraction — and Roddick ended the tiebreaker with a forehand volley winner.

Suddenly on cruise control, Roddick broke in the first game of the fourth set, which Nalbandian pretty much conceded.

Roddick then broke to 5-3 in the last set. He hit an inside-out forehand winner to earn two break points, and converted the first when Nalbandian's backhand flew wide. Nalbandian disagreed with the call, pointing at the spot where it landed and arguing with Egli to no avail.

``Every time it was close,'' Nalbandian said, ``everything was for'' Roddick.

Roddick observed the scene while perched on a courtside sign, then served out the match at love.

The results: Women: singles: final: 2-Justine Henin-Hardenne (Bel) bt 1-Kim Clijsters (Bel), 7-5, 6-1.

Men: singles: semifinals: 3-Juan Carlos Ferrero (Esp) bt 1-Andre Agassi (U.S.) 6-4, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4; 4-Andy Roddick (U.S.) bt 13-David Nalbandian (Arg) 6-7 (4), 3-6, 7-6 (7), 6-1, 6-3.

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