(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
FLUSHING, New York (Ticker) – Justine Henin claimed her second grand slam title of the season when she regained the U.S. Open championship with a comfortable victory over Svetlana Kuznetsova in the women’s singles final on Saturday.
Henin, who was victorious at Flushing Meadows in 2003, followed up her French Open success in June with a seventh career grand slam win when she brushed aside the fourth-seeded Russian, 6-1, 6-3, in one hour and 22 minutes at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The victory also ensured the world’s No. 1 would finish the championship without having dropped a set, a feat that included victories over both Serena and Venus Williams.
“It’s great, this one is maybe the most important one,” Henin said. “The quality I’ve played in the last couple of weeks has been amazing – and it’s just a great feeling because I had a tough draw.
“I had a lot of things to prove myself, not to anyone else, and I did it. I’ve been so consistent for two weeks, so calm and so relaxed and it’s been great. I didn’t lose a set in Toronto and here in two weeks – and it’s just great and I’m really proud of it.”
Henin celebrated by climbing through the crowd and up to the players’ guest box where she embraced coach Carlos Rodriguez before collecting a first prize of $1.4 million.
“It’s a big day for Carlos and I,” Henin said. “Just the two of us really know how hard it’s been the last year. It’s been tough and he gave me unbelievable support. He was just there for me, he and his family, and we just kept fighting together.
“He knew I really needed it at that time and he never stopped pushing me. He’s been hard with me also but he had a big role for sure. It’s been a great year for both of us and that’s why I want to go and see him in the stand. I was glad that I got to go and hug him at the end. That was important to me.”
Kuznetsova, who followed Henin as the U.S. Open titleholder in 2004, had grounds for optimism. The 22-year-old Russian won the Pilot Pen Tennis tournament in New Haven in the week before the Open. Kuznetsova came into the match on a 10-match winning streak that will result in her climbing to a career-high No. 2 in the world rankings on Monday.
“It’s very tough,” Kuznetsova said. “I think the match was much closer than the score, for sure. I’ve said it before, but Justine’s No. 1. When she plays her best game, I have to play my best game. I didn’t play my best game so that’s why I lost.”
Henin, 25, took control from the start, breaking the Kuznetsova serve in the opening game of the match and repeating the feat in the third game to take a 3-0 lead.
There was a wobble in the fourth game when the Belgian served two double faults and a subsequent unforced error gifted Kuznetsova a way back into the set with a break point.
The Russian failed to take advantage, and Henin punished her for it, delivering a second-serve ace to take the game.
Kuznetsova finally got on the scoreboard when she held serve in the fifth game but it proved to be merely a blip for Henin. She won the next two games to wrap up the set in 33 minutes.
To her credit, Kuznetsova did not appear downhearted by the first-set drubbing and hung in the second set before a number of unforced errors continued to limit her ability to make inroads into the top seed’s advantage.
The lengthy fourth game of the set proved the breaking point, however, as Kuznetsova created game points only to blow the decisive play with sloppy shotmaking.
Again, Henin made the most of the opportunity presented her, breaking serve after the seventh deuce of the game and signaling her delight with a shrieked Allez! as she moved into a 3-1 lead.
The Russian had a break point in the next game but could not convert.
Kuznetsova showed some fight as she served to save the match at 5-2 in the second set, winning the game to love, but merely delaying the inevitable in a disappointing spectacle that had promised a much closer contest.
And there was hope for the No. 4 as Henin showed signs of nerves with two double faults, the first of them coming after a spectator let out a yell between the Belgian’s first and second serves.
Kuznetsova earned a break point only to lose it with a weak forehand out wide and then Henin committed her seventh double fault of the match to give her rival another break point.
Yet again, the Russian was unable to close out the game and Henin moved to championship point on another error, finishing the match with a drop shot to pull in her rival before lobbing Kuznetsova for victory.
“With these players, so high level, you just have few opportunities, not many,” Kuznetsova said. “If you don’t use them, there’s no way I’m going to win. I had so many of them, I felt I just didn’t move to the ball well enough because I was pretty tight.
“So, I think I’ve got to learn a lot from this final and just see improvement.”