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Last Updated: Saturday, 7 June, 2003, 17:13 GMT 18:13 UK
Belgian win gives season impetus
By Caroline Cheese

Justine Henin-Hardenne (left) and Kim Clijsters
Henin-Hardenne and Clijsters are challenging the Williams sisters

King Albert and Queen Paola of Belgium made the trip to Paris for what turned out to be 67 minutes of one-sided tennis between their country's most famous sports stars.

Roland Garros has not seen a player so dominant in a women's final since Steffi Graf's whitewash of Natalia Zvereva in 1988.

But despite the damp squib of Saturday's showdown, the sight of the prodigiously gifted Justine Henin-Hardenne lifting her first Grand Slam trophy was heartening.

And the fact that neither Venus nor Serena Williams featured in the final adds significant spice to the rest of the season.

Last year, the sisters were head and shoulders above their rivals.

Come Monday, Serena will still hold the world number one spot but she will be separated from Venus by both Clijsters and Henin-Hardenne.

Serena Williams
Can Serena recover from an emotional defeat in Paris?
Serena failed to reach a Grand Slam final for the first time since Wimbledon in 2001, disregarding the Australian Open the following year which she missed through injury.

And Venus, though she struggled with a stomach problem, was out of sorts from the beginning of the tournament and admitted herself that she was outplayed by fourth-round conqueror Vera Zvonareva.

What the French Open proved, above all, is that the Williams sisters might not have things all their own way in the ensuing months.

Henin-Hardenne has now beaten Serena twice in succession.

Though the world number one would no doubt dismiss such negative thought, defeat, especially the sort of emotional one she suffered in the Paris semis, can do lasting harm to the psyche.

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Henin-Hardenne herself would attest to that.

The 21-year-old had gained herself an unfortunate reputation as a "choker", most famously losing to Clijsters in the French Open semi-finals having led by a set and 4-2.

It has taken until this year's French Open to shake the tag.

Against Clijsters in the final, she once again engineered a set and 4-2 lead only to see the break wiped out, but significantly she refused to buckle and merely broke again before serving out with ease.

Aside from the personal triumph for Henin-Hardenne, the Belgian, along with Clijsters and to a lesser extent Amelie Mauresmo, has also succeeded in breaking down some of the mystique surrounding the Williams sisters.

Serena, and Venus even more so, have been proved fallible.

Vera Zvonareva
Zvonareva kept her nerve to see off Venus in round four

Zvonareva's win over the elder of the two sisters appeared particularly significant - a teenager who refused to be overwhelmed at the thought of beating her illustrious opponent.

And there were other signs that women's tennis might be ready to blossom into a competitive sport once again - including the emergence of Nadia Petrova and Ashley Harkleroad.

Serena, when in form still the world's best player by some distance, is the overwhelming favourite to defend her Wimbledon title.

And she has promised to rise to the challenge led by the Belgian pair - but she and Venus will need to be wary of a far more sturdy challenge to their recent dominance of women's tennis.





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