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Saturday, September 08, 2007

Justine Henin Completes Sister Slam Final Send a link to a friend

[September 08, 2007]  NEW YORK (AP) -- Venus Williams left the U.S. Open the same way Serena Williams did, undone by all those big shots off the racket of little Justine Henin. In a riveting match filled with superb all-court play, Henin became only the second woman to beat both Williams sisters at the same Grand Slam tournament, reaching the final at Flushing Meadows with a 7-6 (2), 6-4 victory over Venus on Friday.

"I just went with my heart. I just kept fighting," Henin said. "I got a bit nervous, but finally I did it. I'm happy to get this one."

The No. 1-ranked Henin will face No. 4 Svetlana Kuznetsova on Saturday night in a title match featuring two past Open champions.

Henin eliminated Serena in the quarterfinals, and Venus said she wanted to right that wrong.

But it was the 5-foot-5, 125-pound Henin who worked every angle Friday, constructing points, sneaking to the net and repeatedly placing balls on the lines. She pounded serves at up to 117 mph, handled Williams' faster offerings, sometimes leaping to reach balls that bounced up near her shoulders.

Henin even came up with a second-set lob winner over the 6-1 Williams - a delivery that put a wide smile on the Belgian's face and left the American slumping her shoulders and hanging her head.

Henin had some trouble breathing early in the second set, and said afterward it was something that bothered her the past few days.

By the end, however, Williams was the one who was physically spent, asking for a trainer to come out and check her pulse and temperature. Right after that, she hit some serves in the 70s while getting broken to trail 5-3 in the second set.

That's not to say the older Williams wasn't good at times, too.

She broke when Henin served for the first set at 5-4, ending a 10-stroke point with a backhand passing winner, and a 16-stroke exchange with a cross-court forehand winner on the line. In the next game, Williams won the point of the match on the 27th shot, a cross-court swinging forehand volley.

But Henin broke right back to end it. Appropriately, the final shot was a backhand by Williams that sailed out, her 35th unforced error - 13 more than Henin.

Wind swirled through Arthur Ashe Stadium, playing havoc with the ball, yet both women came up with all sorts of terrific shots and engaged in several long points filled with reflex volleys, great gets and clean winners on the run.

It was precisely what might be expected from a couple of players who each won six Grand Slam titles.

Henin is the one who gets to try for No. 7 on Saturday. She's into her third U.S. Open final since 2003 - she won the title that year and was the runner-up last year.

The only other player who defeated both Williams siblings at a single major tournament was Martina Hingis at the 2001 Australian Open, where she also got past Serena in the quarterfinals and Venus in the semifinals. Hingis then lost to Jennifer Capriati in the final.

Henin will be a heavy favorite to avoid a similar letdown. She is 14-2 against Kuznetsova, including a victory in the 2006 French Open final.

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"I don't want to think about it," said Kuznetsova, who got off to a horrible start in her all-Russian semifinal against No. 6 Anna Chakvetadze.

How horrible? Chakvetadze won the first set despite hitting only one winner.

And then, slowly but surely, 2004 champion Kuznetsova began keeping the ball between the lines, and Chakvetadze began missing shots short, long and wide. In full control late, the Kuznetsova defeated Chakvetadze 3-6, 6-1, 6-1.

"I played the worst first set. I couldn't put the ball in, and I was really embarrassed by my game," Kuznetsova said. "When the nerves get in the middle, it's tough."

Later on, though, it was Chakvetadze who was struggling to keep her composure, wiping away tears while waiting to return serves in the final game.

"I just played horrible," she said. "Just couldn't put the ball in the court."

It was Chakvetadze's first career Grand Slam semifinal, and she sure played like it in the last two sets as she struggled with the shifting winds. She completely whiffed on one overhead attempt, swinging right past the ball, and violently threw her racket to the court after another flubbed shot.

Kuznetsova came in with a big edge in experience against Chakvetadze - and that hardly showed at all at the outset.

In the very first game, Kuznetsova missed four groundstrokes to get broken. That established a pattern: Over the first set, she would make 21 unforced errors, more than in her entire quarterfinal match.

Chakvetadze then held serve to 1-0 in the second set, and earned three break points at love-40 in the next game. And that's when Kuznetsova turned things around, winning 22 of 25 points in one stretch to assume command.

She wound up saving 11 of 16 break points she faced, while converting eight of 11 she generated.

And her unforced error count in the second set? Only four.

"It was not the best match I've played," Kuznetsova said. "But it was a great challenge for me."

Now comes another.

[Associated Press; By HOWARD FENDRICH]

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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