The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mixed memories for Justine

Berlin: Justine Henin-Hardenne has mixed memories of the French Open, which she will enter this year with higher expectations than ever.

“I’m not saying I’m going to win but my big goal is to win a Grand Slam and I think the French Open is the one I have the best chances of winning,” the 20-year-old Belgian said after defending her German Open title earlier this month.

As Henin — she got married last year — the Belgian burst into the limelight at Roland Garros two years ago, reaching the semi-finals, where she lost to compatriot Kim Clijsters.

“That match was like a dream,” she said. “I can hardly remember how I played or what happened. Just being in that match was so special.”

Last year she travelled to Paris as one of the big favourites, having previously won in Berlin with a memorable final victory over Serena Williams before advancing to the Italian Open final.

She had just entered the world top five and was full of confidence but suddenly fell ill with bronchitis and disappeared in the first round.

“What happened last year makes me very cautious,” she said. “All I’m saying is I’d love to win the French Open but you can’t plan those things.”

Henin-Hardenne, who has a relatively light frame — standing at 1.67 metres and weighing 57 kg — is at her best on clay, where raw power is less of a factor than on faster courts.

Her patience in rallies, her speed and her ability to cover the court as well as her superb single-handed backhand make her one of the world’s finest players on the slow surface.

“To me Justine is the best player on clay at the moment,” Clijsters said after losing to her compatriot in a close German Open final.

Providing she has fully recovered from a knee injury sustained in a gruelling Berlin final which forced her to pull out of the Italian Open last week, Henin will definitely be a top contender in Paris.

Another fact that speaks in her favour is that she has a record for upsetting Serena Williams — the defending French Open champion and current world number one.

She overcame Williams in the Berlin final last year before ending the athletic American’s 2003 21-match winning streak by beating her in the Charleston final last month.

As determined as she is soft-spoken, Henin-Hardenne has worked extremely hard with the French Open in mind.

“I’ve lifted weights and done a lot of running,” she said. “I worked so hard I could cry but it has paid off. I feel stronger than ever.”

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