May 31, 2005
Henin-Hardenne made to dig deep to repel Russian
From Neil Harman, Tennis Correspondent, in Paris
CHAMPIONS rise, as the astonishing Justine Henin-Hardenne proved once more, and champions fall, as Gaston Gaudio showed when he lost the last six games of his match to succumb to David Ferrer, and Marat Safin, champion of Australia, bowed to Tommy Robredo as evening closed in on a spellbinding day for Spain. What never changes is the ability of the tennis family to fall out, this time over plans to start next year’s French Open and, possibly, the 2007 Australian Open on a Sunday.
The grand-slam tournaments are being accused of throwing their weight around. They respond by saying that the idea — driven by the desire of television to swell audience figures — offers more opportunities for leading players to be showcased. The ATP and Sony Ericsson WTA tours are demanding that the grand-slam events recompense them for their players to accede — $1 million (about £548,000) has been mentioned — even though they already pay by far the biggest purses in the sport.
Wimbledon and the US Open have no plans to change from their Monday start, but the French tennis federation is well on the way to an agreement that should be looked upon as an extra day of exposure for the finer things in tennis rather than a reason for one side to exploit the other. Australia is watching the outcome intently.
The Lawn Tennis Association’s drive is for “More Players, Better Players”. So what is wrong with “More Tennis, Better Tennis?” Who would not want to see more of Henin-Hardenne and Rafael Nadal in their present mood? The tiny Belgian had to dig as deep as she had in recovering from the viral infection that laid her so low last year, to defeat Svetlana Kuznetsova, the Russian who took Henin-Hardenne’s US Open title during her period of incapacitation, 7-6, 4-6, 7-5, three gruelling sets that lasted 3hr 15min.
Kuznetsova, who had two match points at 5-3 but missed a forehand pass and netted a backhand slice, said that she lost the match rather than Henin-Hardenne winning it, which is what one would expect her to say. The 2003 champion, who has won 45 of her past 48 matches on clay and has a 7-0 win-loss record in recent tie-breaks, concurred. “I agree that I didn’t play a great match today, but I think I am mentally very strong when I have to be and that made the difference,” she said. “I could sense she was very nervous when she had her chance.”
In the quarter-finals, Henin-Hardenne will play Maria Sharapova, the Wimbledon champion, whom she beat in the last eight of the German Open in Berlin a month ago.
Nadal’s progress showed this teenager’s talent at handling and disarming a crowd that can turn from the most charming to the utterly charmless in the blink of an eye. On Sunday evening, play was halted for almost ten minutes over a disputed line call and scenes of supposedly mature humans acting like idiots took the breath away.
At least the replacement crowd yesterday was able to take defeat on the chin and show respect for Nadal’s brilliance. The Spaniard won 6-4, 3-6, 6-0, 6-3, displaying instinct, courage and the joy of competition that marks him out as a special player. Grosjean did all that he could. He tried to move Nadal into corners where he hoped he would not be able to fashion replies and yet, somehow, he always had an answer. Not only does he hammer the life out of the ball, he is assured at close quarters as well.
Neither of last year’s men’s finalists could reach the last eight. Gaudio let slip a 4-0 lead in the fifth set to Ferrer, while his fellow Argentinian, Guillermo Coria fell to Nikolay Davydenko, of Russia.
The notion that Safin may be able to carry his racket through a grand-slam year always seemed remote. Resplendent in Australia, he had gone into his shell, kept his emotions in check and it took the edge from his play. Against the unfancied Robredo, it all proved too much and the Russian was warned in the third set for smashing his racket and a courtside chair. “I destroyed the racket and the chair because I couldn’t take it any more, to release my emotions, otherwise I was going crazy out there,” he said, after losing in five sets in ten minutes short of four hours.
Copyright 2005 Times Newspapers Ltd.