Justine Finds Haven At Pilot Pen
NEW HAVEN, CT, USA - Justine Henin-Hardenne separated herself from the pack just days before the year's final Grand Slam, albeit in abbreviated fashion; the Belgian announced her return to the No.2 ranking by winning the Pilot Pen Tennis presented by Michelob Ultra over Lindsay Davenport, when the American retired Saturday afternoon due to a right shoulder injury trailing 60 10.
Henin-Hardenne, who was earlier in the week announced - alongside Amelie Mauresmo - as one of the first qualifiers for the Sony Ericsson Championships, extended her lead in the Race for Madrid over the Frenchwoman to 560 points.
Davenport, who spoke of soreness in the shoulder after her Friday win over Samantha Stosur, attempted to keep up with Henin-Hardenne from the beginning. But after dropping the opening set at love she requested a medical timeout, then returned to court with a bandaged shoulder. After losing the first game of the second set, she decided it was time to stop.
"Pretty much at 0-3, when I had already served two games, I thought I needed to saw my arm off," said Davenport. "I had a bunch of tightness up higher. It was bothering me yesterday. Because of that, you start compensating with the other muscles going down. It was going into my elbow, into my forearm. That's the kind of stuff where you start getting in trouble."
Despite not being at full strength during the defeat, her sixth consecutive loss to Henin-Hardenne, Davenport had kind words for her opponent after the match.
"She has made some of the biggest improvements; it was three years ago maybe where she went from not having the greatest forehand to making her forehand one of the best, a huge weapon. She is very tough. If you watched some of her matches the year she won the US Open, against Jennifer, against Kim, she was as tough as they come. She is dedicated to getting even better and is constantly changing things in her game to stay on top. She's remarkable, I believe."
"Today is not the way you want to win the tournament," Henin-Hardenne said. "I feel very sorry for Lindsay. I hope she will feel better soon. I could feel from the beginning of the match she wasn't hitting the ball as usual. But I did my job. It's not easy in this kind of situation, but I stayed very focused on every point and didn't give her a lot of opportunities. So that was the way I had to play."
Having sat out the entire summer hardcourt season leading up to New Haven with a right knee injury, Henin-Hardenne made a triumphant return to action, not dropping a set in winning her 28th career Sony Ericsson WTA Tour singles title, her Tour-leading fifth of the season. The victory over Davenport also kept her ahead of everyone else in another way, it being her 48th singles match win of the season. On the next rankings, she is projected to rise from No.3 to No.2, the first time since the 2004 US Open fortnight she'll feature in the Top 2.
"I was a bit surprised after a few weeks off to come back so quickly at this level but I had a very good time," Henin-Hardenne added. "I felt relaxed on the court the whole week. It's a great season so far for me. I hope I can keep going this way. Until now it's the best season of my career. I've been very consistent. I've been healthy, the best since 2003 I would say. That's the main thing."
Leading up to the final, Davenport also had a very encouraging week, picking off two tricky opponents in her first two matches (Katarina Srebotnik and Francesca Schiavone), then notching her 15th career victory over a reigning world No.1 by beating Amélie Mauresmo in the quarterfinals. In Friday's semifinals she gained revenge for an opening round loss at Los Angeles a few weeks back by taking out Australian rising star Samantha Stosur, in two tie-breaks.
"I came here and played really well," Davenport stated, "but having all these matches with no days off is not easy, especially when I haven't played in six months. But I'm happy I was able to still perform well here. I feel absolutely horrible for the tournament and all the fans because they come here to see the best tennis. When you can't provide your service, you just feel guilty."
The tournament was rocked with early round departures of three seeds, namely Nadia Petrova (No.4), Patty Schnyder (No.6) and Anastasia Myskina (No.8); Mauresmo (No.1) and Elena Dementieva (No.3) managed to make the quarters, but it was Henin-Hardenne, Davenport and Svetlana Kuznetsova (No.5) who reached the final four, along with Stosur, a lucky loser into the main draw.
Saturday evening's doubles final featured the winners of the last four majors, US Open and Roland Garros champions Lisa Raymond and Samantha Stosur and Australian Open and Wimbledon champions Yan Zi and Zheng Jie. In New Haven it was the No.2-seeded pairing of Yan and Zheng who prevailed, 64 62, over the top-seeded American-Australian duo. It was the Chinese duo's eighth title, and sixth this season. They head into the US Open now having won 28 of their last 31 matches.
But Henin-Hardenne and Davenport stole the show at the Pilot Pen Tennis this past week, and both former US Open champions head to Flushing Meadows knowing they are hitting solidly.
"In a Grand Slam, things can happen. It's long and you need to be at your best for seven matches. My first match is my main goal right now. I don't want to look too far. I just want to stay concentrated on what I have to do on the court. I had a very positive attitude this week. I just want to keep going this way."
"With the US Open less than 48 hours from beginning, this is not where I want to be. But I do think this is something that, given rest, will get better. It's just trying to manage it for my first match. Hopefully I can get through that being able to kind of do what I need to do to play well there and win and still have rest."