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FRENCH OPEN WOMEN'S FINAL Hardenne rolls easy past Pierce



Published: Sat, June 4, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Belgian won her second French title with a 6-1, 6-1 romp.

PARIS (AP) -- Grand Slam, indeed!

Justine Henin-Hardenne slammed Mary Pierce grandly in the French Open final Saturday, reducing the Frenchwoman to tears and an apology to fans after the most lopsided title match at Roland Garros in 17 years.

Henin-Hardenne couldn't have played much better, or Pierce much worse, than they did in a 6-1, 6-1 drubbing that gave the Belgian her second French championship and fourth major trophy just months after she returned to tennis from a long layoff caused by a blood virus and knee injury.

"It's a lot of emotion for me," a smiling Henin-Hardenne said in French as she accepted the same ornate Suzanne Lenglen Cup she won in 2003, along with a check for just over $1 million. "I lived through very difficult moments last year. This fills me with happiness."

Looked in top form

Bedridden at times during her seven-month absence from the game until starting her comeback in March, and bothered by a back injury the past two weeks, Henin-Hardenne looked the picture of health in a masterful performance on a breezy, occasionally drizzly afternoon at Roland Garros.

"I probably enjoy my game more than before my illness," said Henin-Hardenne, who turned 23 three days earlier. "I enjoy every moment I'm on the court. Every ball I hit, it's with my heart."

She glided with ease on the red clay and did anything she wanted to do -- clipping lines and corners with groundstrokes, hammering overheads, dropping volleys -- while getting plenty of help from an outclassed Pierce, the 2000 champion.

Emotional after loss

"Excuse me. It's very difficult to speak right now," the 30-year-old Pierce tearfully told the crowd in French after the most one-sided French final since Steffi Graf beat Natasha Zvereva 6-0, 6-0 in 1988. "I'm sad because I lost. I wanted to play a better match. I'm sorry it didn't last very long."

When she gathered her emotions afterward, she said neither patriotic pressure nor nerves got to her, but rather an odd lack of tension before her third French final, 11 years after her first.

"You have to have some kind of emotion to be up for the match, and before today's match I was really calm," she said, adding that she sometimes has had trouble breathing or eating before big matches in the past. "Maybe I was too calm. I needed to be more aggressive."

Pierce held serve to start the 62-minute match, then wilted as she watched Henin-Hardenne win the next six straight games to close out the set -- the last point on a double-fault by Pierce -- and three more in a row to start the second set.

Pierce had looked so fluid, effortlessly striking winners with deep, hard, flat groundstrokes against No. 1 Lindsay Davenport in the quarters and Elena Likhovtseva in the semis. Now Pierce seemed wooden, awkward, flat, her timing off and her shots wild.

Extends streak to 24

Henin-Hardenne, extending her winning streak to 24 consecutive matches, all on clay, didn't need any luck, but she had that going for her, too. When she mis-hit a forehand return on one of Pierce's serves in the first set, the ball knuckled in a high arc through the gentle wind and landed on the baseline. Surprised, Pierce whacked it wide with a backhand -- the 14th straight point she lost during a stretch from the second game to the fifth.




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