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From Los Angeles Times: Serena Williams Loses in French Open

By Steven Wine
Associated Press Sports Writer
10:08 AM PDT, June 5, 2003

PARIS -- Serena Williams' Grand Slam reign is over.

With fans jeering her mistakes, Williams fell short in her bid for a fifth consecutive major title today, losing to Justine Henin-Hardenne 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 in a riveting semifinal at the French Open.

Williams had won 33 matches in a row at Grand Slam events, a streak that began last year at Roland Garros and was the sixth longest in the Open era.

"She's had her chance so many times," Henin-Hardenne said. "Maybe it's time to give someone else a chance."

Henin-Hardenne rallied from a 4-2 deficit in the final set and advanced to the first all-Belgian Grand Slam final. On Saturday she'll play Kim Clijsters, who defeated Nadia Petrova 7-5, 6-1 in the other semifinal.

Henin-Hardenne's upset delighted the center-court crowd, and fans cheered even when Williams missed several serves. That was in the seventh game of the final set, when the crowd was annoyed at Williams for questioning two close calls that ultimately went in her favor.

The hostile treatment so rattled Williams that she lost four consecutive points and her serve, leaving her with a shaky 4-3 lead.

Her mother and coach, Oracene Price, criticized the fans.

"A lack of class and total ignorance," she said. "Or they just don't know tennis and the etiquette of tennis."

When Williams hit an errant return on match point, she walked around the net and briskly shook Henin-Hardenne's hand as the crowd booed her. There were more jeers when she headed for the exit.

"She was not very happy," Henin-Hardenne said. "But that's tennis."

Said Williams' mother: "She knew this job was dangerous when she took it."

Henin-Hardenne broke for a 5-4 lead in the final set, then had to overcame a case of nerves to close out the win. Serving for the match, she double-faulted twice and hit two errant groundstrokes to lose the game at love.

"I panicked a little," Henin-Hardenne said.

She regrouped in the next game, and consecutive backhand errors by Williams gave Henin-Hardenne another lead, 6-5. This time she served it out.

"I was very calm, because I had just been in the same situation," she said.

Henin-Hardenne hit a perfect lob and two service winners to reach 40-0, and on match point Williams yanked a backhand return wide.

Henin-Hardenne will be playing in her second Grand Slam final. Venus Williams beat her to win the 2001 Wimbledon title. This time the opponent will be compatriot Clijsters, who edged Henin-Hardenne in the 2001 semifinals and was two points from the title before losing the final to Jennifer Capriati.

Henin-Hardenne has long drawn raves for possessing the sport's best backhand, and she can now also claim the honor of being Serena Williams' chief nemesis. Williams was 21-0 this year before losing to Henin-Hardenne at Charleston, S.C., on April 13.

The latest upset was perhaps even more surprising, given that Williams had lost only 19 games and no sets in five previous matches at Roland Garros.

Williams was outplayed at start by Henin-Hardenne, who was more relaxed, moved better and showed more patience and consistency with her shots. Henin-Hardenne hit aggressively enough to keep the defending champion off balance, and served smartly to neutralize Williams' normally ferocious returns.

The Belgian won 13 of the first 18 points. She whipped a backhand winner to break in the opening game, then broke again at love to lead 3-0.

Henin-Hardenne had Williams lunging for shots and hitting wildly, and in the first set she even had an edge in winners, 10-9.

After both players held serve four times in a row, they traded three consecutive breaks. Williams cracked a backhand to take the set and even the match.

In the earlier semifinal, Clijsters struggled with an erratic forehand early and lost the first service break to trail 5-4. Facing set point in the next game, Clijsters hit a backhand drop shot that clipped the net, then fell on Petrova's side for a winner.

Consecutive backhands into the net by Petrova gave Clijsters the game to make it 5-all, and the turnabout deflated the unseeded Russian. She was broken again two games later to lose the set as Clijsters began to pull away, winning nine of the final 10 games.

"I was a little bit down when she touched the let cord," Petrova said.

"Definitely, I think those things can really turn sets around and matches around," Clijsters said. "I was struggling a little with my forehand and not feeling the rhythm. Once I broke her that first time, I felt comfortable I could do it."

Petrova, the first female Russian semifinalist at the French Open in 28 years, played with impressive poise at the start. But the net cord on set point wasn't her only missed opportunity -- she converted just one of eight break-point chances, all in the opening set.

Clijsters won 10 consecutive points to lead 4-1 in the second set. On match point she hit another backhand drop shot, and this time it didn't clip the net, landing for a clean winner.

One of the men's semifinals Friday will be an all-Spanish rematch of last year's final, with defending champion and marathon man Albert Costa facing No. 3-seeded Juan Carlos Ferrero. Costa is the first player to win four five-set matches in a single French Open.

The other match will be between No. 7 Guillermo Coria and unseeded Martin Verkerk.

From The New York Times: Serena Williams Is Upset at the French Open

PARIS, June 3 — Tennis is a sport of mood swings, and the women's game took a massive one at Roland Garros stadium today. After four consecutive all-Williams finals, there will be no Williams at all in Saturday's final at the French Open.

Four days after Venus Williams was beaten in the fourth round, her sister Serena, who has dominated the sport's major events for the last year, was beaten, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5, by fourth-seeded Justine Henin-Hardenne in the semifinals.

Instead of Williams vs. Williams, it will be Belgian vs. Belgian, because Henin-Hardenne's countrywoman and childhood rival Kim Clijsters also advanced today, defeating unseeded Russian Nadia Petrova, 7-5, 6-1, in the first semifinal.

"It's going to be a very special day on Saturday for everybody in Belgium and for us, too," said Henin-Hardenne of the first all-Belgian final in Grand Slam history.

Serena's defeat put an end to her 33-match winning streak in Grand Slam tournaments and left her looking vulnerable on the clay and off, as she broke down in tears in the post-match news conference. It was a rare and moving display of fragility from the 21-year-old, who typically projects nothing but confidence, and the source of her distress was not just the end of her dominant run. It was the hostile treatment she received on Court Philippe Chatrier from the crowd, which cheered her errors down the stretch and booed her as she walked off.

"It was just a tough crowd out there today, really very tough; story of my life," she said, struggling to maintain her composure.

In 2001, during the final at an event in Indian Wells, Calif., there was more support for Clijsters than Williams because the fans were still angry that Venus had withdrawn at the last minute from a semifinal match with her sister. In the semifinals of this year's Australian Open, Serena was again the target of boos when she played Clijsters, who is a crowd favorite in Australia because she dates Australian tennis star Lleyton Hewitt.

Serena Williams won both those difficult matches, and she won one that could have been even more emotional in the quarterfinals on Tuesday when she quieted the French crowd early on her way to overwhelming the popular, very nervous Frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo. But against Henin-Hardenne, Williams faltered in the final set after taking a 4-2, 30-0 lead.

"It's a little difficult; all of my life I've had to fight," Williams said. "So it's just another fight I'm going to have to learn how to win. That's all."

For most of the semifinal, the crowd was more pro-Henin-Hardenne than anti-Williams. Roland Garros traditionally attracts a large number of fans from neighboring Belgium, and with Henin-Hardenne and Clijsters both playing on center court, there were dozens of Belgian flags on display throughout the afternoon.

Henin-Hardenne, who defeated Williams on clay in Charleston, S.C., earlier this year, quickly gave them plenty of reason to wave the flags, winning the first three games of the match and then closing out the set by mixing her shots intelligently and getting enough first serves in play to avoid letting the powerful, erratic Williams take advantage.

Ever since Frenchwoman Emilie Loit pushed Williams to three sets at this year's Australian Open by making liberal use of her slice backhand, the idea of keeping the ball low has been a key element in her opponents' tactics. Henin-Hardenne did some of that, but she was more concerned about keeping the ball deep and relatively high bouncing.

"My feeling is that on clay, Serena has trouble generating power off this kind of shot because she can't push off like she does on a hard court," Henin-Hardenne's coach Carlos Rodriguez explained.

But Henin-Hardenne was unable to keep her errors to a minimum, and though Williams still looked edgy and failed to close out the second set when she served at 5-3, she broke Henin in the next game with a combination of backhands that the quick Henin-Hardenne was not quite quick enough to handle.

Williams finally moved convincingly into the lead in the third set, when she broke the Belgian to go up 3-1. That would usually have been her cue to run away with a match, but in this case, she proceeded to lose her serve in the very next game at love. It was a clear letdown, but Henin-Hardenne was unable to take the hint and lost her own serve at love to trail 4-2.

"At that point, I was really beginning to doubt whether I could win," Henin-Hardenne said.

In the next game, Williams took a 30-0 lead when a Henin shot flew just long. Williams circled the mark before there was a call, which drew the crowd's ire, and though chair umpire Jorge Dias quickly stepped down from his perch and confirmed that she was correct, the crowd continued to jeer. Instead of waiting for the noise to subside, Williams served. Henin-Hardenne had her left hand raised, as if to indicate she was not yet ready. The serve missed, but Dias had not seen Henin-Hardenne's gesture, and the Belgian did not volunteer the information when Dias looked her way. Serena, despite her protests, was forced to hit a second serve instead of a first serve and lost the point on a forehand unforced error.

Her agitation only encouraged the crowd, and for the rest of the game, each of her missed serves was greeted with cheers. She did not win another point and walked to her chair shaking her head but still leading 4-3. "I was a little disappointed with her," Williams said of Henin-Hardenne's hand gesture. "I probably still should have won the game. It definitely didn't turn around the match. But I think to start lying and fabricating, it's not fair. I understand that, you know, people want to win these days but, I don't know."

Henin-Hardenne did not have the opportunity to respond to Williams's comments because her news conference preceded the American's. But Williams was certainly correct to say that the Belgian wanted to win. Henin-Hardenne grew up on clay, and made her first breakthrough at a Grand Slam event here in 2001, when she reached the semifinals before losing to Clijsters. Though she has been occasionally overwhelmed by the taller, stronger Williams sisters on faster surfaces, including the 2001 Wimbledon final against Venus, she has worked hard to improve her fitness and her attitude.

She is still no tower of strength. When she first served for the match on today at 5-4, she lost her serve at love, double faulting twice and missing two groundstrokes. She dropped her head, but Rodriguez, her coach, shouted at her in French: "You have worked for this. Come on!"

She broke Williams in the next game, and when she served for the match a second time, she was in a much more confident frame of mind. Instead of losing at love, she won at love, and her hands were soon pointed to the sky and Rodriguez was soon in tears in the stands.

"She works so hard," he said. "But I have had to convince her that she had what it takes to beat the Williamses."

From the New York Times:Unruly Crowd Too Much to Take


PARIS, June 5 - At the end of a long, tumultuous and ultimately demoralizing afternoon, Oracene Price sat down in the players' lounge, composed enough to smile, to surmise that she was "not going to have a heart attack" over a semifinal defeat in a Grand Slam event.

It was, conversely, understandable how her daughter, still three months shy of her 22nd birthday, could be brokenhearted and moved to tears by the unruliness of a crowd that desperately wished for her to lose.

On a court with the initials P (for Philippe) and C (for Chatrier), political correctness and primal compassion were lost on unfeeling fans who combined with a whirlwind named Justine Henin-Hardenne to put the first dent in Serena Williams's third-set psyche and Grand Slam armor in more than a year. The fans' behavior was ugly and everything else that Price would call it: arrogant, lacking in class and understanding of the game.

"She knew it was a dangerous job when she took it," Price said of Serena, her youngest daughter, after Henin-Hardenne advanced to an all-Belgian final against Kim Clijsters with a 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 victory. "That's what I always told her."

It made perfect sense that Henin-Hardenne, an underdog with a French name, would be the overwhelming favorite, especially after Clijsters had qualified for tomorrow's final by defeating the Russian Nadia Petrova in straight sets. Geographic and cultural partisanship are one thing. Turning raucously on Williams the way the fans did in the third set, even cheering her first-service faults, was patently cruel.

"A little bit too much," Henin-Hardenne would say, admitting she was the beneficiary of what she could not condone.

Price did not invoke the undercurrent of race and Serena said she didn't think the derision was related to the recent political tensions between the United States and France. So what was it? Since the Williams sisters have taken over women's tennis, winning nine Grand Slams from the 1999 United States Open on - the last four by Serena - it is always something.

Standing not far from Price, Pam Shriver commented that the fans' reaction yesterday was mild compared with their treatment of Martina Hingis in the 1999 final against Steffi Graf. Hingis was punished for a temper tantrum when the match turned for Graf. All Williams did was point to a couple of marks in the red clay on balls called in by the line judge before the umpire subsequently checked and overruled.

On what is her least favorable surface, this wasn't Serena's most memorable effort, she was quick to admit. Henin-Hardenne, a rising star, had beaten Williams earlier this spring on clay, as had Amélie Mauresmo. For that matter, Clijsters had her down by 5-1 in the third set of the Australian Open final on a hard court in January before a collapse that had nothing to do with being physically outclassed. No one is unbeatable, or indestructible, despite such unthinking portrayals of the Williams sisters during their respective runs of Tour dominance.

This has always made me uncomfortable, the notion that they represent some huge leap on the athletic evolutionary chain, the genetic engineering experiment of their father, Richard.

Yes, the slender Venus and the buff Serena are superior athletes, but they are not the only tall power players in this era of big-babe tennis. Muscle doesn't make the champion, and for all the requisite size and racket technology, women's tennis especially is still a game that often comes down to guile and raw nerve.

So seldom have the Williams sisters been given the credit they deserve for their mental acumen and toughness - too often under adverse conditions - you wonder if, in the context of them being viewed as machines, it leads to misadventures like yesterday's, fans forgetting that this is a 21-year-old woman, a human being.

As she has since winning here last year, Serena had persevered, reaching the third set despite being outplayed for most of the first two. With the benefit of the first chair overrule, she had broken her sagging opponent at love for 4-2. The second call on a 0-15 point in the seventh game turned the fans loose.

Price said she thought most of the louts were upstairs, in the cheaper seats. (Some did cry out for the others to stop and a few went so far as to cheer a later Henin-Hardenne fault.)

Stunned, Williams surrendered the break. "It doesn't make it any harder," she would say later. "I just {hellip} ." She paused to let the tears flow and stuttered, "Actually, that's a lie."

Henin-Hardenne, dealing with her own nerves, would soon fail to serve out the match at 5-4, double-faulting twice. It seemed certain that Williams would soon quiet her tormentors for good but, as Price would say: "She was nervous. I think both players were, because of the crowd."

Serena was rattled, serving poorly, offering up drop shots to a speedy player. Henin-Hardenne broke back and, finally after 2 hours 20 minutes, served out the match.

Price, like Serena, said Henin-Hardenne deserved to win. When Richard Williams was on Tour with Venus and Serena, he often brought disdain upon the family by antagonizing opponents. Price, now divorced from Richard, has been the essence of comportment and class.

Asked how she - as coach as well as mom - could be so calm so soon after the match, she laughed and said, "I'm a cool lady."

Serena Williams lost her composure in a theater of howling fools. She and her Grand Slam streak deserved far more appreciation and respect upon its end.