Henin Wins At Home in Antwerp
Published February 17, 2008 12:00
ANTWERP, Belgium - She had to fight from behind all week long but in her final test she was on top from the start, and on Sunday in front of her home fans it was Justine Henin who lifted the Proximus Diamond Games title, closing out the 10-year run of Antwerp as a Sony Ericsson WTA Tour stop right where it began with a straight set championship win.
In its inaugural year on the Tour in 1999, Antwerp saw none other than Henin prevail, although her odds were far different at the time. Playing in her first Tour event as a No.178-ranked wildcard she made it all the way to the final, then beat a top-seeded Sarah Pitkowski, 62 61, to become just the fifth of now six players to capture their debut Tour event.
With a 63 63 championship victory over Karin Knapp a top-seeded Henin made sure her home title would stay at home.
It was by no means an easy path to the title for Henin, despite her not having to face anyone anywhere near her ranking. The world No.1 battled from a set and 3-1 down to beat No.76 Tsvetana Pironkova in her first match, 67(4) 63 61; had a one-hour, 47-minute tussle with No.106 Alisa Kleybanova in the quarterfinals before advancing, 64 63; and again rallied from a set behind in the semifinals to beat No.94 Timea Bacsinszky, 26 63 63. All three of them were qualifiers.
Although it was her toughest match of the week on paper Henin's win over No.47 Knapp was her most comprehensive as she broke three times in the first set and once in the second set en route to a one-hour, 30-minute championship win, her 10th consecutive win in a Tour final. It was her 57th career final, and she is now 41-16 in those (she is now No.11 on the all-time list of title-winners and No.2 among active players, after 54-time titlist Lindsay Davenport).
"Today was much better for me than the last few days," Henin said. "The crowd was supporting me a lot and I felt really good about my game. I've played three tournaments this year and won two of them so it's a good start. The trophy is beautiful here too - Amélie has it at home because she won here three times and I think we all want to win it too! Unfortunately, since this is the last year of the tournament, I don't think I'll ever win it. But this was an amazing experience and I'll never forget it, and I'll keep fighting in the next few years to try and put Antwerp back on the calendar."
The 20-year-old Knapp - whose best previous results were semifinal finishes at three smaller clay court events last year - had just as tough if not a tougher road to her maiden final, including rallying back from 63 31 down to beat Yaroslava Shvedova in the second round and nearly letting a 5-2 third set lead slip away against No.4 seed Patty Schnyder in the quarterfinals, having to go to a third set tie-break to stay alive. She also took out No.9 seed Li Na in the semifinals.
"This was a difficult match for me - it was my first time playing Justine, and she put lots of pressure on me coming into the net so much," Knapp said. "But I tried my best and still played well. It was a great week, reaching my first final, and at a Tier II too. I just hope I can keep playing like this."
Aside from the ultimate champion it was a week full of surprises at the Proximus Diamond Games, none more shocking than the opening match departures of the two players who lit up the courts at the Open Gaz de France last week in Paris. In the first round it was Agnes Szavay who bowed out (seeded No.6 in Antwerp, she went quietly to Kleybanova, 62 63) and in the second it was last week's winner, Anna Chakvetadze (seeded No.2, she lost to Sofia Arvidsson, 63 75).
Order was restored on Sunday however, with Henin's win and later the doubles triumph of doubles world No.1s Cara Black and Liezel Huber. The top-seeded tandem defeated No.2 seeds Kveta Peschke and Ai Sugiyama easily in the final, 61 63, for their first title of the year and the 13th of the loyal career partnership.