| Justine Henin-Hardenne with the US Open trophy in front of the Unisphere in New York on Sunday. (AP)
New York: When Flushing Meadow was enveloped by a grey blanket of mist and drizzle for four straight days, it was easy to assume the US Open was beyond redemption. That was before Andy Roddick and Justine Henin-Hardenne arrived as avenging angels from the dirty New York clouds.
Their achievement in claiming the men’s and women’s titles was worthy enough, but the manner in which they did so on a sunny finals weekend gladdened the heart. Even Roddick, usually a sassy all-American kid, could not contain himself. “It’s more than I could ever dream of,” he said through his tears after beating Juan Carlos Ferrero 6-3, 7-6, 6-3 in Sunday’s final.
Days earlier, as the wet weather in the second week made just four singles matches possible in three days, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) spent their time poring over chaotic schedules and deflecting criticism for their poor organisation.
A showcourt roof was a future possibility, they said. Court covers would not save much time against rain, they argued. The scheduling was as fair as ever, considering this is the US Open, they insisted. As Americans Roddick and Andre Agassi both got through to the quarter finals before their impatient rivals, others begged to differ.
But as the backlog of matches, which had threatened to push the Open into a third week, was slowly cleared, so people’s perspectives changed. They were then turned on their head altogether by the exploits of Belgian second seed Henin-Hardenne.
Eleven times she was just two points from defeat in her epic semi-final against American Jennifer Capriati, but on each occasion Henin-Hardenne averted danger before prevailing 4-6, 7-5, 7-6. The drama did not end there. She suffered from cramping and dehydration during their three-hour three-minute classic, and was put on an intravenous drip after walking off Arthur Ashe court.
She did not leave for her hotel until 0240 local time on Saturday — a little more than 17 hours before she was due to face compatriot and top seed Kim Clijsters in the final. No matter, for despite rumours she would not be fit enough to play, Henin-Hardenne produced a performance full of verve and vigour.
Winning 7-5, 6-1 against an overawed Clijsters to claim her second Grand Slam title after this year’s French Open success, Henin-Hardenne was showered with praise. “What she did has to be one of the all-time great efforts,” said John McEnroe.
It also whetted the appetite for the return to action of Serena and Venus Williams, the former US Open champions who were absent through injury this year.
Not to be outdone, Roddick confirmed the changing of the guard in American men’s tennis by securing his first Grand Slam title, a perfect antidote to the rather insipid tennis which had characterised the first week.
Completing the American hardcourt summer with a stupendous 27-1 win-loss record, the 21-year-old had come back from two sets and one match point down against Argentine David Nalbandian in the semi-finals.
His final match on Sunday was a complete contrast as he used his thundering serve and groundstrokes to bombard Ferrero — who had delighted in a semi-final win over Agassi — into submission.
So a tournament that had begun with a special ceremony to honour the retiring Pete Sampras, and was also compatriot Michael Chang’s last, climaxed with a young American earning his stripes. “I don’t think you could have written a better script,” said Roddick.