Paris, June 10 :

Defending champion Justine Henin-Hardenne of Belgium won the French Open for the third time here on Saturday defeating Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia in straight sets.

Fifth seed Henin-Hardenne, the 2003 and 2005 Roland Garros champion, achieved her fifth Grand Slam and 26th title of her career with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over the eighth seed.

The 24-year-old becomes the eighth woman to win the Roland Garros title at least three times and first to win back to back titles since Steffi Graf a decade ago.

“The first is special, three is a lot,” said Henin-Hardenne, who won her first major here.

“I feel really happy to join the likes of Monica Seles and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario. What I experience at Roland Garros is like nowhere else,” she said before being presented with her trophy by tennis legend Martina Navratilova.

The Belgian came out of the blocks flying in the sweltering heat of the Philippe Chatrier court, breaking the Russian’s opening service game. She rushed to a 4-1 lead with two breaks before the first cracks appeared when a double fault in the sixth game handed Kuznetsova a break back and a lifeline which the 2004 US Open champion quickly seized.

Kuznetsova held serve for 3-4 but despite fighting back from 0-40 down in the eighth game, she failed to convert a break point to level proceedings. The 20-year-old nevertheless did not let Henin-Hardenne have it all her own way, holding serve to love for 4-5, but the Belgian served out the set after 50 minutes on court.

Faced with a wilting Henin-Hardenne the Russian squandered a 2-0 lead in the second set, allowing the Belgian to level proceedings. The champion also staved off a break point on her serve in the sixth game as Kuznetsova hit wide.

From that point Henin-Hardenne never looked in danger of losing as she cruised to the title and the 940,000 euro top prize on her second match point. “I suffered physically today. I was very tired,”

said Henin-Hardenne, who was forced to withdraw from the final of the Australian Open earlier this year because of illness.

“I played better on the big points. When I made the break at 3-3 in the second set that was the turning point.” It was the 11th win for the Belgian in 12 meetings with 20-year-old Kuznetsova.

“It’s disappointing for sure, but it’s still a final at Roland Garros,” said Kuznetsova. “I’m disappointed I didn’t take my chances, but Justine played a great match.” The Belgian won the title without dropping a set during the two weeks. She has never dropped a set in the final here winning the 2003 title against countrywoman Kim Clijsters 6-0, 6-4 and last year she saw off France’s Mary Pierce 6-1, 6-1.