| Justine Henin-Hardenne reacts during her French Open semi-final victory over Serena Williams in Paris Thursday. (AFP)
Paris: Serena Williams’ Grand Slam stranglehold was ripped apart at the French Open on Thursday when Justine Henin-Hardenne beat the American top seed 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 in a momentous semi-final.
Henin-Hardenne bewitched the American with her breathtaking shots to set up a first all-Belgian Grand Slam final against Kim Clijsters.
Earlier, Clijsters had defeated Russian Nadia Petrova 7-5, 6-1.
Undefeated in the Slams since losing to her elder sister Venus in the 2001 US Open final, Serena held all four major crowns heading into this semi-final and had been a strong favourite to retain her title.
“She wasn’t very happy, but that is sport... that is tennis,” fourth seed Henin-Hardenne said after receiving the briefest of congratulations from Serena.
“She has had lots of chances recently. It’s about time she gave others a chance.”
Serena waltzed onto the court with a bejewelled butterfly clasp in her hair and the rhinestone shoulder strap of her bright orange dress sparkling in the sun.
Henin-Hardenne was more businesslike. The only jewellery she wore with her conventional tennis outfit was her wedding ring, glinting as she sped around the court.
Speed she did and she roared into an early 3-0 lead with two breaks of serve against the formidable Serena delivery.
The Henin-Hardenne backhand is a thing of beauty but also lethal. The damage it did to Serena’s groundstrokes was immeasurable in early rallies as she leaned into the ball, thrashing it this way and that.
She broke back once and then held for 3-2 but Henin-Hardenne cranked up her own power and motored into a 5-2 lead with another break of the Serena serve.
She quickly earned two set points, but Serena thundered one return past the Belgian and another went by the wayside before Henin-Hardenne earned a third. This time she made no mistake, smashing an ace down the centre for the set 6-2 after 30 minutes.
Stupefied, Serena sat shaking her head and staring into space at the changeover as her opponent buried her head in a towel.
The pair were inseparable in the second set, Henin-Hardenne ghosting around the court, ripping and floating backhands in equal measure. Serena tore into the ball with all her might.
After 73 minutes Serena got her reward. Converting her third break point when the Belgian fired a forehand long, the champion shrieked encouragement to herself as she took a 5-3 lead.
Serving for the set, Serena found herself breakpoint down when Henin-Hardenne hit a beautifully-rolled backhand on to her toes but the champion saved it with a beefy serve.
A lame forehand into the net handed the Belgian a second break chance and this time she converted with a feather-light forehand drop volley followed by an emphatic smash past the world number one.
But Serena was not ready for her run of 33 straight Grand Slam matches to be ended and in the next game broke for the set with a thunderous backhand down the line.
Rattled, Henin-Hardenne could sense victory slipping from her grasp and when Serena broke for a 3-1 lead in the decider it looked as though her chance had gone.
But the Belgian had no monopoly on jangling nerves, however, and throughout a tense third both players struggled to hold serve.
With the score locked at 5-5, Serena slammed a backhand into the tramlines to give the fourth seed her third break of the set and finally, after, two hours 20 minutes Henin-Hardenne held to clinch the match.
The petite Belgian pumped her arms in the air as Belgians and French alike roared her triumph.
Earlier, a large slice of luck sent Clijsters skipping into her second French Open final on Thursday. The Belgian second seed beat Russian Petrova 7-5, 6-1 at Roland Garros to move within one match of her maiden Grand Slam crown.
The pair had been neck-and-neck throughout the first set before a Clijsters shot slapped into the net cord as unseeded Petrova held set point.
The ball hovered on top of the net before dribbling on to the Russian's side. Clijsters was off the hook, Petrova was demoralised and from then on the match went the Belgian’s way.
In the junior girl's doubles, India’s Sania Mirza and Sanaa Bhambri defeated Keterina Bondarenko of Ukraine and Heidi El Tabakh of Egypt 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 to move into the semi-finals.