Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
It would appear as though Justine Henin has officially found her rather formidable game just in time for the upcoming French Open.
Henin pulled off a major upset this past Sunday by stopping powerful American Serena Williams in the final at the lucrative German Open in Berlin. The diminutive Belgian prevailed in three sets, including a third-set tiebreak, to claim her first title of the year and the first "big" title of her young career.
The 19-year-old needed nearly 4 1/2 months to notch her first championship of the season, this following her breakthrough campaign of 2001, when she compiled three titles and finished as the runner-up to Serena's big sister Venus at Wimbledon.
Henin (pronounced EN-ih) had been a hard-luck case to this point of the season, having appeared in a trio of finals, only to come up a loser against the towering Venus each time. She opened the year by losing to Venus at the pre-Australian Open Australian Hardcourt championships; lost to Venus again at the inaugural Proximus Diamond Games in Antwerp in her native Belgium; and succumbed to Venus yet again at the Bausch & Lomb event in Florida last month.
Earlier this season, Henin was trying to make some adjustments in her game, specifically with her less-than-booming serve. But all the tampering resulted only in near championships.
Justine Henin didn't just beat Serena Williams at the German Open, she also stunned top-seeded Jennifer Capriati in the semifinals.
Henin appeared as though she was heading for an 0-4 mark in her 2002 title matches after dropping the second set to Serena, 1-6, last week, but the 5- foot-5 blossoming star rebounded to slug it out toe-to-toe with the mighty
The Belgian needed three match points to subdue Serena -- but obviously three was the charm.
Henin wasted a pair of match points at 6-5 in the third, but poked a gem of a drop shot to set-up a third championship point, which was converted when Serena hit the ball long to seal the deal after 2 hours, 17 minutes.
"Maybe it was a breakthrough, I've always been too nervous in these kind of matches," Henin said. "But it was a great week, a great experience and I played free in the head."
Serena, who was playing her first-ever final on clay, lost for just the second time in 20 matches.
Henin had been 0-2 in her previous encounters with Serena, but with the colossal victory in Berlin, the Belgian improved to 2-6 lifetime versus the Williams sisters and pocketed $182,000 in the process.
The feisty Henin didn't just beat Serena at the German Open, she also stunned top-seeded Jennifer Capriati in the semifinals. It was deja vu for the Belgian, as she also shocked Capriati in last year's Wimbledon semis to set-up a showdown with Venus at the storied All England Club.
Despite her small frame, Henin packs a wallop with her groundstrokes, which includes a menacing one-hand backhand, the best in the women's game. She's currently the eighth-ranked player in the world after finishing 2001 at No. 7.
Henin soared as high as No. 5 in the world last summer.
The youngster hopes to be a factor at the French Open, which gets underway May 27 in Paris, where she made it all the way to the semifinals a year ago only to lose to compatriot Kim Clijsters in a tough three-setter.
A baseliner who prefers clay courts, Henin will have a real shot at claiming her first-ever "major" at Roland Garros. She's a solid 26-10 in her Grand Slam appearances, including a quarterfinal berth in Melbourne back in January, when she again lost to her "good friend" Clijsters in that all-Belgian clash.
Henin certainly has the type of game that could land her a French Open crown, but we'll just have to wait and see if she can keep her nerves in tact in south Paris.
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