future hall of famers

BRING ON A HENIN vs. SERENA FINAL

A blockbuster Justine Henin vs. Serena Williams women’s singles final at the 2010 Australian Open looks like a strong possibility.

A renewal of one of the best rivalries in women’s tennis over the last 10 years looks to be in the cards as the bottom half of the women’s draw opened up with losses by No. 2 seed Dinara Safina and No. 3 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova, and Henin defeating fellow Belgian Yanina Wickmayer 7-6 (3), 1-6, 6-3, to advance into the quarterfinals.

To reach the Australian Open final in only her second tournament back from a 20-month retirement, Henin will have to beat Petrova and then the winner of the Maria Kirilenko vs. Jie Zheng quarterfinal.

Henin won six and lost seven matches against Serena during their rivalry and the two future Hall of Famers have combined for 18 major singles titles. The two players seems destined for a second-round collision course at the pre-Aussie Open event in Sydney, but Henin withdrew from the event after losing an exhausting final the week before against Kim Clijsters in Brisbane.

“I’m sure she’ll be ready and amped to go,” Williams said two weeks ago about the possibility of playing Justine in Sydney. “She has a good record against me so I’m sure it will be a good match.”

Williams lost only two games in their last encounter at Miami in 2008, shortly before Henin announced her shock retirement from tennis while holding the No. 1 ranking. Their most famous – and contentious – match came on June 5, 2003, as documented and excerpted below in the book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.TennisHistoryBook.com)

2003 – Serena Williams is defeated by Belgium’s Justine Henin-Hardenne 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 in front of a raucously pro-Henin Hardenne crowd in the semifinals of the French Open, ending Williams’ 33-match major tournament winning streak. The match is highlighted by an incident in the third-set that proves to be contentious and acrimonious between the two rivals for years to come. With Williams serving at 4-2, 30-0 in the final set, Henin-Hardenne raises her hand indicating she is not ready to return serve. Williams serves in the net, then protests, to no avail, to the chair umpire and tournament referee that she should be given a first serve, while Henin-Hardenne says nothing of her gesture. Williams then loses the next four points to lose her service-break advantage and eventually the match. Says Henin-Hardenne, “I wasn’t ready to play the point. The chair umpire is there to deal with these kind of situations. I just tried to stay focused on myself and tried to forget all the other things…It’s her point of view but that’s mine now and I feel comfortable with it….I didn’t have any discussion with the chair umpire. He didn’t ask me anything. I was just trying to focus on playing the returns. She saw me and she served. It was her decision to serve. I just tried to stay focused on the second serve. One point in the match doesn’t change the outcome.”

Safina retired with a back injury in her round of 16 match with Maria Kirilenko, trailing 4-5. Petrova, who upset reigning U.S. Open champion Kim Clijsters 6-0, 6-1 in the third round, continued her run by upsetting reigning French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.  Serena Williams faces Aussie Sam Stosur in the round of 16 on Monday night.

Federer and Hewitt Rewind

Roger Federer and Lleyton Hewitt will meet in an epic third round match up at the 2009 US Open in a battle of former champions. Rene Stauffer, the author of book THE ROGER FEDERER STORY: QUEST FOR PERFECTION ($24.95, New Chapter Press, www.RogerFedererBook.com) describes a memorable match-up between the two future Hall of Famers from the 2002 Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai, China. The excerpt is below.

In the semifinals, Federer faced Hewitt, who already clinched the year-end No. 1 ranking for a second year in a row. The Australian barely qualified for the semifinals and benefited from Carlos Moya winning a three-hour mean­ingless match over fellow Spaniard Costa, where a Costa victory would have him reach the semifinals rather than Hewitt. Although Federer lost five of the last seven matches with Hewitt, he reasoned his chances of beating him and winning the first big championship of his career were very attainable.

Federer started his semifinal with Hewitt in furious fashion, taking a 3-0 and a 5-2 first-set lead, but Hewitt ran and fought as if his life were at stake. Hewitt fought off five set points and rallied for a 6-5 lead. Serving for the set, Hewitt staved off another five break points, before capturing the first set 7-5. Federer, however, was not ready to surrender. The second set turned into a wild back-and-forth struggle. Hewitt served for the match at 5-4 and held match point, but Federer broke back for 5-5. After holding serve for 6-5, Federer evened the match by breaking Hewitt’s serve, connecting on his fourth set point of the game.

The Chinese fans went wild—out of their seats, screaming and cheering. In the commentary booth high above the stadium, Heinz Günthardt and Stefan Bürer, the Swiss TV commentary team, described the tension and fast-paced action to the audience back in Switzerland, where it was Saturday morning and many people postponed their weekend shopping to watch the dramatic match with their new sports hero.

As the match extended into a third hour, the breaks seemed to fall in favor of Federer. Leading 4-3 in the final set, Federer held two break points to put him in the position to serve for the match. Both opportunities, however, were lost and Hewitt held for 4-4. Hewitt then subsequently broke Federer’s serve the next game to serve for the match at 5-4. The Australian reached his second match point—and shockingly double-faulted. Federer then broke Hewitt’s serve to square the match at 5-5. Serving with new balls in the next game, Federer committed two consecutive double-faults to allow Hewitt to break him back and gained another opportunity to serve for the match. It took Hewitt another four match points before he finally corralled Federer and advanced to the final with an epic 7-5, 5-7, 7-5 victory. Following the match, Hall of Fame journalist Bud Collins walked into the press room and asked his fellow scribes, “Have you ever seen a better match?”

In the craziest match of his career to date, Federer was aware that he let victory escape from his grasp. “I have no one to blame but myself,” he said to a small group of Swiss journalists who traveled to China. “Luck wasn’t on my side. I blew a big opportunity. That hurts.” A vacation in Phuket, Thailand helped heal the wounds.