Envelopes set up Henin win

2007-06-10 15:58
Paris - Justine Henin had no trouble with tactics for her fourth French Open win - she brought them onto the Roland Garros court written down and hidden away inside a clutch of large, brown envelopes.

The Belgian number one eagerly ripped open the envelopes during the changeovers to reveal details of her battle plan which she used to devastating effect in her one-sided 6-1 6-2 win over Serbia's Ana Ivanovic on Saturday.

She said they were a series of notes written down for her by long-standing coach Carlos Rodriguez.

"They were just little things about what to do on serve and return, nothing special," said Henin.

"I had trouble with concentration in the tournament and Carlos wanted me to be strong on every point and return at important times." Ivanovic said she saw Henin consulting her notes but that it wasn't a tactic she would employ.

"We all have ways to help us and that way was good for her to help her relax and stay focused," said the teenager.

Opened an envelope

"I prefer to talk about things before the match, but it it works for her, then that's good."

Henin sat in her chair during a changeover, opened an envelope and pulled out a note bearing the word "Allez" - French for "Let's go." When it comes to the French Open, Henin is fluent.

The Belgian claimed her third consecutive Roland Garros title and fourth overall on Saturday, taking advantage of 19-year-old Ana Ivanovic's nervous play to win 6-1 6-2.

Henin closed out the victory with a forehand volley, then flipped away her racket, buried her head in her hands, leaned on the net and exhaled.

"It's surreal to win for the third time in a row," Henin said.

"I am struggling to take it in."

She became the first woman since Monica Seles in 1990-92 to win three consecutive Roland Garros titles, and only the second since 1937.

"Justine is really at home here," said her brother, Thomas.

"This is really her home terrain."

Ivanovic, a Serb playing in her first Grand Slam final, started well before her play deteriorated. The first sign of trouble came when she awkwardly hit a serve 10 feet long, prompting groans from the crowd. She double-faulted to fall behind 3-1, and the mistakes came in flurries after that.

Started getting nervous

Ivanovic struggled in particular with her serve.

"All of a sudden I started getting nervous, and my ball toss was going everywhere," she said. "I didn't think about moving well or where I should play, and she could use that. ...

"I was thinking more about the occasion than about my game. That's what I was afraid of."

Ivanovic committed 26 unforced errors to 13 for Henin and double-faulted five times.

The women's final was tight at the start. Henin trailed in each of the first four games, which took 24 minutes, but after taking a 3-1 lead she won 18 of the next 22 points.

Pumping her fist after nearly every point she won, Henin kept up the pressure in the second set with her vast repertoire, which ranged from delicate backhands to overhead smashes.

Ivanovic never overcame her nerves, framing consecutive shots during one rally in the final game. Henin aggressively closed out the victory two points later, belting a forehand into the corner and charging forward to finish off the tournament with a volley.

"She didn't give me much of a window," Ivanovic said. "She has been there before and has won Grand Slams. She knew how to deal with the nerves, and for me obviously it was the first time.

"I guess I can use this as experience. Next time in that situation, I'll probably know how to deal with it better."

Separating from her husband

Henin won the French Open for the first time in 2003 and now has six Grand Slam titles, moving ahead of Venus Williams and Martina Hingis. Among active women she trails only Serena Williams, who has won eight.

Henin has won all four of her French Open finals in straight sets, never losing more than eight games. She has reached the final of the past five majors she has played, but she missed this year's Australian Open because she was separating from her husband.

"I had some very tough times at the start of the year," she said. "I hung in there these last few months. And now I've found an immense pleasure on the court once more." Henin extended an Open era record winning streak of 35 consecutive sets at Roland Garros. She became the first top-seeded woman to win the title since Steffi Graf in 1996.

The Belgian became the fifth woman since 1925 to win the French four times. Chris Evert leads with seven titles.

The next challenge for Henin: winning her first Wimbledon title next month to complete a career Grand Slam.

"We are going to enjoy this as much as possible," said her coach, Carlos Rodriguez. "But in a few days, we're going to be back to work." Henin won $1.34m, equal to the men's champion. Ivanovic, the first player to represent Serbia in a major final, received $670 000.

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