Well, it wasn’t exactly a pretty match that Serena Williams won today against Justine Henin. In fact it was a rather lugubrious match. I love using that word. And today it fit. It was not a match featuring lots of snappy play and crispness. More like the two women were heaving balls at each other. As the score would indicate (0-6, 7-5, 6-3), these women wandered all over God’s creation before they got on track. Serena must have set her alarm and then forgotten to get up anyway. Much like Andy Murray did yesterday. She had a cup of coffee and then munched on the bagel Justine served her up in the first set. (Question: When did Serena Williams last get bageled by Henin? ) Whew, I was so tempted to turn off the telly at that point. I was still rankled over how poorly the men’s semis turned out yesterday, so when Serena didn’t bother to show up in the first set, my teeth were on edge.
Justine broke in the opening game. She looked sharper, fitter, swifter. Serena had all sorts of problems, mostly due to her poor movement. She seemed rooted in cement and her shots, as a consequence, went flying. She had no rhythm on her serve. Serena had a break point on Justine’s first service game but Henin beat her off. At 3-0, Serena had already made eight unforced errors. Her backhand was in sorry shape. It seemed like only fifteen minutes had passed and the match was already at 4-0. Serena made a stand at the end of the set, forcing Justine into four set points before the Belgian closed the deal. Serena had a total of 18 errors to Justine’s 8. I concluded at this point that it was just going to be one of those days for Serena.
Apparently Richard Williams was all set to come down on court during the between set break and coach her, but Serena declined the offer. She probably didn’t want to hear it because she knew already what she needed to do. But her problems continued as she lost her opening service game at love in the second set. Ouch, we thought, but then Serena dug in and started making Henin uncomfortable in her game. She had Henin down 0-40 on her own serve but Justine fought back. This second game defined the second set as Justine took Serena to four break points before Serena finally capitalized. Mary
Carillo was grumbling that this was not a pretty match. Hang on, Mary, we’re getting there! A moment later Justine had the chance at 5-4 to serve the match out but troubles ensued. Justine rolled her ankle and took a tumble, scraping her knee. A minor booby but just enough to throw her off stride. She double faulted then knocked a backhand feebly into the net and Serena was back even at 5-5.
Now Serena is getting herself in gear, now she starts serving well. She opens her game with an ace, then follows with a great backhand pick up volley crosscourt for 40-0, and holds a moment later at love for 6-5. Justine gets an early lead but Serena starts nailing her shots, keeping the ball deeper and forcing errors from the Belgian. Justine was setting the points up wonderfully, she just couldn’t take care of the kill shot up the line. Serena breaks her for the second set, 7-5.
You’d think Serena would blitz her now in the final set, just for the sake of punishment. Serena held the opening game at love. She has now won four straight games, and Justine is getting rattled and impatient. At 30-40, the Belgian double faults giving Serena a 2-0 lead. Justine fought to break her in the third game but Serena holds for a 3-0 lead. As if Henin didn’t have enough problems, she took another fall in Game 4. Her feet just went out from under her. Twice in one match is pretty astonishing when you think about it, because Justine Henin is one of the best movers in all of women’s tennis. But again she seems OK, the trainer visits briefly but there are going to be no excuses out here today. Justine fights off one break point before holding at a key point for 3-1.
Are we having fun now? Not really. It feels like Chinese water torture. Serena is definitely playing better, but we’re still kind of holding our breath. Henin isn’t done yet. Serena seems a bit deflated she couldn’t beat up on Henin for a 4-0 lead, and now you can sense another momentum shift back to the Belgian. Suddenly Serena’s movement does not look that good and her serve is going off again. Another long game, wherein both players hit good shots followed by awful looking ones. At the fourth deuce, Serena double faults, and Henin breaks with a great inside out forehand up the line. We are back on serve at 3-2. To accentuate her return, Henin closes the score at 3-3 with an ace.
Undaunted, Serena fights back and holds serve at love for 4-3. Then Serena puts pressure on Henin’s service game, getting her down 0-30, then Justine double faults for 15-40. Serena puts in a good service return and Justine’s backhand sprays wide for the break, 5-3. Is Henin ready for the glue factory yet? Well, not quite.
Serving for the championship, Serena knocks a backhand long for 0-15, then hits a nervous looking forehand into the net for 0-30. Justine uncorks a beautiful backhand up the line for 0-40. No sign of the Fat Lady yet. Then Serena squiggles in a little backhand up the line for 15-40. A good first service winner takes her to 30-40. Then she gets down under the concrete it seems to scoop a backhand up the line for a winner and a deuce point. A great serve out wide gives her the first match point. She misses her first serve in the ad court, but then nails a second serve ace out wide. It looked close enough for a challenge, but Henin doesn’t bother, she’s already heading to the net. The replay shows why she did not challenge: smack on the line, said she.
Nice handshake, women. A moment spent there talking, smiling. I hope Henin said, “So where have you been, woman?” Three and a half years since their last meeting. Definitely this is a rivalry we’d like to see more of. This may be our only consistent rivalry for a while given that Mauresmo is experiencing miasma once again, Clijsters is nearly gone from the game, and Maria is wondering where she parked that serve of hers.
(Answer: Serena has never been bageled before by Henin. In fact, she bageled Henin in their very first meeting back in ‘01 at the U.S.Open).