Henin targets French hat-trick

2007-06-08 10:34

Paris - Serbian teenager Ana Ivanovic will stand in the way of Justine Henin's march into the record books when they meet in the French Open final on Saturday.

The 25-year-old Henin is just one victory away from a hat-trick of title wins at Roland Garros. The only other woman to achieve that in the Open Era (post-1968) was Monica Seles in 1992.

It would also be the sixth Grand Slam title of her career, having already won three in Paris, with one each at the US and Australian Opens, and consolidate her position as world No 1.

On the face of it, the top-seeded Belgian is ideally placed to win for the fourth time in five years.

The defending champion is on a 20-match winning streak at her favourite Grand Slam tournament, the last 16 of which were won in straight sets. Roland Garros, she says, is her back garden.

The 19-year-old Ivanovic, on the other hand, will be playing in her first Grand Slam final, having secured the biggest win of her career last month in the German Open.

Henin though says she is taking nothing for granted against a player who had to leave her home at an early age in order to benefit from proper training facilities.

"I know her a bit - I know what she has done," she said.

"She's played an exceptional tournament this year and she's in great shape. She's won in Berlin. She's very confident.

"She has matured quite a lot over the last year so this is a match I'm going to work on very seriously."

Henin's surprisingly easy straight-sets win over Serena Williams in the quarter-finals had been viewed as a final before the final, but the way Ivanovic demolished second seeded Maria Sharapova in the last four raised a few eyebrows.

Ivanovic, who says her inspiration as a child to play tennis was Monica Seles, looked fitter and more ruthless than she did in her tournament play last year when her earlier promise failed to fully bloom.

"I've put in a lot of hard work lately and worked a lot on my fitness especially with a view to playing in a Grand Slam where you have to keep the fitness level for two weeks," she said.

"Also, winning Berlin helped me a lot. It gave me the confidence that I can beat top players."

Ivanovic vowed not to be over-awed either by Henin's domination of the clay-courts over the last few years or stage-struck by her debut performance in a Grand Slam final.

"It's most important for me to play my game and to move forward and just to be focusing," she said.

"Not to get over-excited about the final and just take it step by step."

The Serbian would do well to take note of the last two finals at Roland Garros both won by Henin over Mary Pierce in 2005 and Svetlana Kuznetsova last year.

In both of these, the Belgian blasted out of the blocks and clamped a stranglehold on her opponents from the very first exchanges.

To have any chance of causing a major upset, she will have to stay with Henin for as long as she can in the first set and add variety and panache to her game to breach the wall of confidence that the defending champion has built around her.

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