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Sometimes you need to lose: Serena

Charleston: Serena Williams is capable of losing, and everyone on the WTA Tour can thank Justine Henin-Hardenne for the reminder. The Belgian emphatically ended Serena’s 21-0 start to the season by beating the world No. 1 6-3, 6-4 Sunday for the Family Circle Cup title.

“This doesn’t change anything about the great champion that Serena is. But it means that today we could see that we can do these things against her, and she can be frustrated, too,” Henin-Hardenne said. “I think it’s good for the other players that we can see that.”

Serena’s last defeat came against another Belgian, Kim Clijsters, in the 2002 season-ending Tour Championship in November. She issued a bit of a warning to future opponents.

“Sometimes you need to lose,” Serena said. “I’m motivated now. I can just feel it coming on again. So you’ve got to watch out.”

What was perhaps most stunning about Sunday’s final at the clay-court event was the way the momentum turned after Serena won the first three games.

All of a sudden, her fourth-ranked opponent won six games in a row, taking 23 of the last 26 points in the first set. With her smooth strokes right on target, Henin-Hardenne also overcame a 0-2 deficit in the second set.

“My whole game was like 9,000 notches down,” Serena said. “I didn’t serve well, I didn’t return well, I didn’t hit well. You know, it’s just one of those days.”

“You ask yourself, why did she make all these mistakes'” Henin-Hardenne said. Maybe it’s because all these balls were coming back at her, she was running all over and she didn’t have any solutions to her problems.”

The Belgian entered the match with a 1-4 career mark against Serena, who won a so-called Serena Slam by winning the last four major meets in a row: French Open, Wimbledon, US Open last year and the Australian Open in January.

That streak led to talk on Tour that Serena might be able to get through 2003 without a loss. But she repeatedly has said a perfect season was a lofty goal she never expected to reach.

“I think you guys dwelled on it more than I did,” she said. Serena showed some shakiness in her semi-final against former No. 1 Lindsay Davenport, blowing a big second-set lead.

Henin-Hardenne made Serena pay for errors, running down shots into the corners and forcing the American to go deeper into points than she wanted.

“I was a little bit nervous in the first,” said Henin-Hardenne, who lost to Serena’s older sister Venus in the 2001 Wimbledon final. “But then she began to make some mistakes.”

It’s Henin-Hardenne’s second title of the year and improved her match record to 21-4. She won a meet on hard courts at Dubai in February, beating Jennifer Capriati and Monica Seles in consecutive matches. (AP)

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