Henin pierces through Pierce in final

Associated Press

Paris, June 4:

Justine Henin-Hardenne beat a visibly nervous Mary Pierce 6-1, 6-1 on Saturday to win the French Open, capping a remarkable comeback from a blood virus with her fourth Grand Slam title and her second at Roland Garros. It was the most lopsided Grand Slam final since Steffi Graf beat Natasha Zvereva 6-0, 6-0 to win the French Open in 1988. Henin-Hardenne won 14 consecutive points early and swept nine games in a row in her first major event since returning from a seven-month layoff. The energy-sapping virus left her bedridden last year, but since returning in March she’s 27-1 and has won 24 consecutive matches, all on clay. The 10th-seeded Belgian also won the 2003 Roland Garros title. The No 21-seeded Pierce, a Frenchwoman staging a career comeback herself by reaching her first major final since winning the French Open in 2000, was unnerved by the occasion.

The flat groundstrokes that landed on the line in her previous two wins, including a quarter-final win over top-ranked Lindsay Davenport, this time sailed just long or wide. Pierce also hit many ugly shots, shanking an easy volley, blowing an overhead and sending mis-hit groundstrokes looping short or wild. Centre court fans mostly cheered in support of the struggling Pierce. They occasionally groaned as her mistakes mounted, and at least once there were whistles jeering her shaky performance. Pierce tried running in place to calm her nerves. She tried body English to steer shots. Rain twice fell briefly, but not hard enough to rescue Pierce with a delay.

Each time she appeared on the verge of finding her form, Henin-Hardenne squelched the momentum. The Belgian put away consecutive winners in the next to last game before Pierce hit her sixth double-fault to make it 5-1. One last error by Pierce — her 29th with a backhand into the net — gave Henin-Hardenne the victory in 62 minutes. On a cool, breezy, overcast afternoon, Pierce held serve in the opening game, but Henin-Hardenne won the next three games at love. On back-to-back points Pierce blew a forehand sitter, then shanked an overhead. Sometimes even Pierce’s best wasn’t good enough. In one sequence she dug out a low ball, then made a lunging volley but still lost the point. A scrambling Henin-Hardenne made several defensive saves to sustain rallies and picked her spots to turn aggressive. A forehand winner put her up 4-1 in the first set, and another that kissed the sideline made it 5-1.

Pierce double-faulted to reach 15-40 in the next game, hit an ace to save a set point, then double-faulted again to lose the set. It lasted just 24 minutes, and she won only 10 points. Pierce tried to gain a foothold to start the second set. The first game went to deuce three times, but Henin-Hardenne hit an ace, and Pierce then shanked an easy volley. In the next game, Pierce made perhaps her ugliest error, dumping an easy overhead into the net at her feet. Henin-Hardenne won the next point for a 2-0 lead in the set, and it was 3-0 before Pierce managed to hold serve. That was the last game she won.

Two lefties left at Roland Garros

PARIS: In French they’re “les deux gauchers” — the two left-handers. At the French Open, one of them will become “le champion.” Spanish teenager Rafael Nadal and Argentine journeyman Mariano Puerta meet on Sunday in the first all-lefty men’s final at Roland Garros since 1946. The last Grand Slam event featuring two lefties was in 1998. The fifth-ranked Nadal is the only left-hander in the top 20, allowing him to hit shots at angles other players seldom see. But that advantage will be neutralised against Puerta, third-highest in the rankings among lefties and 37th overall. Nadal is a big favourite in the wake of his semi-final victory over top-ranked Roger Federer. Left-handed Grand Slam champions were once common. They included Rod Laver, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Puerta’s Argentine compatriot, Guillermo Vilas.