US Open Icon: Justine Henin
Published August 19, 2011 12:32
Four years after losing her debut opener to Amélie Mauresmo at the 1999 US Open, Justine Henin made the final at Flushing Meadows for the first time. It was the 21-year-old's third Grand Slam final overall, and second of 2003, and once again she was pitched against fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters. As at Roland Garros, Henin prevailed. Within weeks she had usurped the major-less Clijsters from the top ranking, duly ending the season as No.1 for the first time.
But the clutch match in Henin's first US Open title run wasn't that final, which she won 75 61, ending the four-year reign of the Williams sisters in the process. It was the No.2 seed's barnburner of a semi against sixth-seed Jennifer Capriati that really set the tournament alight.
The match, which lasted more than three hours, finished around midnight - and only after Henin recovered from a 5-3 deficit in the second set and a 5-2 deficit in the final set. Capriati was within two points of victory 11 times, but Henin's indomitable spirit and sublime single-handed backhand won the day. At the end of the match the diminutive Belgian sank to her knees with joy and relief; she had to be treated for muscle cramps and dehydration before the final.
The following year, returning as the top seed, Henin's title defense ended in a fourth round upset by No.14 seed Nadia Petrova. By the time the 2005 US Open rolled around, Henin had dropped to No.7 in the world and again she fell in the round of 16, this time to twelfth seed Mary Pierce.
It was the last of five fourth round finishes she would post at the event, but Henin would make two further appearances at Flushing Meadows, and justify her seeding in fine style on both occasions. In 2006, as the No.2 seed, she reached the final. Though beaten by third-seeded Maria Sharapova, 64 64, Henin could console herself with the knowledge that she was the first woman to reach the final of all four majors in a calendar year since Martina Hingis in 1997.
Twelve months on and back at No.1, Henin won her second US Open title - and seventh major overall - by beating 2004 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in a straight sets final, 61 63. Along the way the diminutive Belgian dispatched Serena Williams (in the quarterfinals) and Venus Williams (in the semis) to became just the second player to defeat both sisters in the same Grand Slam tournament (after Hingis at the 2001 Australian Open.)
The victory formed part of a six title, 32 match winning streak that lasted from Toronto until a quarterfinal loss at the Australian Open the following January. It helped Henin finish the year as No.1 for the third time, and to become the first player in WTA history to win more than $5 million in prize money in a single season. But she would not return to Flushing Meadows. In May 2008 she abruptly announced her retirement and, sadly, her promising comeback in 2010 ended at Wimbledon.
Champion (2): 2003 (d. Clijsters), 2007 (d. Kuznetsova)
Runner-Up (1): 2006 (l. Sharapova)
Years contested (9): 1999-2007
Win-loss record: 35-7