Justine And Amelie: A Royal Dust-Up In Dubai

Most likely Justine Henin and Amelie Mauresmo didn’t sit down and decide to cook up a stellar women’s tennis match yesterday, but the timing was beautiful nonetheless. Because earlier in the week it was announced that Wimbledon, finally, would pay the women equal money. With an announcement like that some of us were probably holding our collective breaths: how often do the players come out and play exactly the opposite of what the situation requires? Instead the two women delivered up a pretty spectacular final with a lot of great variety of play. They DESERVED equal pay for that performance. We should add that they probably got it too, not just from the purse (a hefty 1.5 million) but from the appearance fees that I assume both women received as well. I’m glad they took it seriously and delivered the goods to us, big time.

After all, it could have ended up like the debacle down in Buenos Aires, where that men’s event lost nearly all the top seeds, and in the end what we got was pretty much a non-match between DiMauro and Monaco. Someone should keep an eye on the tournament director, he’s probably looking for the nearest open window. If he hasn’t gone out of it already.

The sheiks in Dubai on the other hand must be very pleased with what they got for their money. They lost Sharapova and Serena Williams before the tournament started due to hamstring problems and flu, but the draw held up almost perfectly. Four of the five top seeds made it into the semis, the exception being Martina Hingis at Number 4 who lost to Number 5 Jelena Jankovic. This was probably no real surprise as Jankovic has beaten Hingis before and is on the way up, while Hingis probably ran out of steam after playing a very late night round of 16 match.

Justine Henin should probably buy a plot of land in Dubai like Roger Federer has. She loves this place, she has not lost a match here in 16 attempts. She won this title for the fourth time. It was also the first time that both top players have visited the final together.

The tone was set early in the match with both players showing off a variety of attacking shots, moving each other around early and coming forward at every opportunity. Justine stayed just a half-step ahead of Amelie most of the way, you felt her mentality was stronger, her shot-making more decisive. And that backhand. Wow! Actually, we got two great one-handed backhands, certainly the two best in the women’s game. But Justine has worked on hers a lot and it shows. She now gets an incredible amount of pace on her backhand. In fact she can probably hit it the way some women wail on their forehand sides. It was that impressive a shot.

Henin also went after Mauresmo’s serve, both first and second, which are still pretty big shortcomings in her game. Why can’t more of the women do what Justine did early in the first set when she took a second serve, stepped around and tomahawked an inside-out forehand winner up the line. It was like shooting ducks in a barrel.

Henin broke at 15-40 in the first game then fought Amelie off to hold with a great backhand passing shot up the line. Henin showed weakness at only one point, when she served at 4-3 in the first set. Amelie unleashed a great backhand of her own up the line for 0-15 then attacked Justine’s second serve (anything you can do I can do too) and came in behind her return, forcing Justine to net her shot. Then Justine double faulted for 0-40. You’d swear Amelie was going to even the set at this point but Justine fought her off and held for 5-3. The back and forth continued with pressure on both serving games, but Justine had the last word holding at 40-0 and closing the set with a great cross court backhand.

The second set continued the great play of the first, Amelie gave no signs of being demoralized, but Justine gave no signs of fading away. Amelie fought off a break point for a 4-3 lead. But you felt somehow that it was Amelie who was having to play catch-up. As well as Amelie could raise her game Justine was raising her level as well. One quick blink might decide this one.

It happened on Amelie’s serve at 5-all in the second set. She double faulted twice in this game giving Justine the lead, 6-5, and the chance to serve out the match. She used the occasion to show off even more of her brilliant shot-making on this day, coming into net and digging out a low volley for a cross court winner giving her 30-0. A forehand out wide that Amelie couldn’t handle gave Henin championship point and she closed the deal with another forehand crosscourt that Amelie netted.

6-4, 7-5 was the score, and my, was the handshake at the net brisk and cool. No love lost between these two. We’re all fine with that, aren’t we? A good hate relationship probably brings out quality tennis like this. Keep up the hatred, ladies!

The key was that Amelie could not protect her serve at the crucial moments. That is going to be part of my rant during the week as I plan to take up a WTA player each week and comment on their game. Amelie is first up to receive a bit of flame.

But for today, we saw some spectacular play from two women who hopefully will provide us a few more lovely matches throughout the year.