Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Justine Henin-Hardenne has established herself as one of the all-time greats at the French Open, where she just secured her third title in four years, this time without even losing a set. In the process, JH-H became just the 11th woman in the Open Era to win five or more Grand Slam singles titles.
She is now one of only four active players with at least five major singles titles, along with Serena Williams (7), Venus Williams (5) and Martina Hingis (5).
The diminutive Belgian has proven that, when healthy, she's the best women's player on the planet. She's clearly the top performer on clay, as no other woman moves on the crushed red brick quite like the determined Belgian.
The former world No. 1 and currently third-ranked Henin-Hardenne has appeared in both major finals so far this season, with the other resulting in a retirement loss against current world No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo at the Australian Open in January. The typically gritty Belgian was forced to quit in the second set of the final in Melbourne due to stomach pain. Henin-Hardenne stated afterwards that she feared possible injury had she continued to play, but was widely criticized for not finishing the bout.
Henin-Hardenne has won five of the last 13 Grand Slam events, including three French Open titles in four years.
The 24-year-old star has appeared in six of the last 13 Grand Slam finals, winning five of them to clearly establish herself as the player to beat on the circuit. She's reached seven major finals in all, going 5-2, with the other loss coming at the hands of Venus in the 2001 Wimbledon finale.
In addition to the three French Open crowns, Henin-Hardenne also captured the 2003 U.S. Open and 2004 Aussie Open.
"Now my results are starting to be more numerous, and it's wonderful because it's been more than 20 years I've been giving everything," Henin-Hardenne said. "I started playing when I was five years old. Since then, my life depended on and was guided by tennis, so it's important to know the moments of happiness. It gives you strength."
At the 2006 Roland Garros fortnight, she became the first woman since Spaniard Arantxa S?nchez-Vicario in 1994 to corral the title without dropping a set. The Belgian fought off a triple set point in the second set of her second- round match against little-known Belarusian Anastasiya Yakimova. Outside of that scare, JH-H waltzed through the other six rounds, including a straight- set spanking of her countrywoman Kim Clijsters in the semis and two-set win over Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova in the final.
This may have been her most gratifying French title to date.
"The first one was very emotional because it was the first Grand Slam I won. And then it was the confirmation last year. And then this year, it's, I don't know, right now I cannot find the words to describe it. Right now I still can't realize I won the French Open three times."
Henin-Hardenne became the first woman since Steffi Graf in 1996 to successfully defend at Roland Garros, and the sixth in the Open Era to win it three or more times, joining Margaret Court, Chris Evert, Graf, Monica Seles and S?nchez-Vicario. That's what you'd call Hall-of-Fame company.
"It's amazing to be with all these names. Some players did things that cannot be repeated. They were great champions. I wouldn't dream of comparing myself to them. It's incredible winning so many Grand Slams. It can inspire your respect."
By the way, Henin-Hardenne is a brilliant 34-5 this year, including 13 wins in her last 14 outings and three titles in her eight 2006 events. She's 13-1 in her '06 Grand Slams and her victory in Paris gave her a 14-match winning streak at Roland Garros, where she's won 22 of her last 23 matches dating back to 2003, the year she was named the WTA Tour Player of the Year.
The super 5-foot-5 Belgian owns 26 career titles, which already have her inside the top 20 among the ladies' career winners. She's currently tied with Serena and Francoise Durr on the all-time titles list and her next title will tie her with Hana Mandlikova and Gabriela Sabatini.
Also, Henin-Hardenne has now won at least one Grand Slam event four years running, including half of the majors in '03. She also helped tiny Belgium capture its first-ever Fed Cup title in 2001 and was the Olympic gold medalist in Athens in 2004. JH-H needs Wimbledon to complete a career Golden Slam.
Any way you cut it, she's putting together quite the resum?.
Henin-Hardenne has been putting up the numbers despite the fact that her career was disrupted by some health issues in 2004 and 2005. She battled an energy-sapping virus and often slept up to 18 hours a day, barely having the strength to brush her teeth, let alone play professional tennis. She was seeded first for the 2004 French Open, but still ill with the viral infection, she lost her second-round match against unheralded Italian Tathiana Garbin. The tough Belgian, by the way, avenged that setback at this year's edition of Roland Garros.
JH-H, who's been a fixture inside the top 10 since 2001, has earned more than $11 million on the court (11th all-time) since turning pro back in 1999. She won her first-ever WTA event, as a wild card in Antwerp, in '99.
Henin-Hardenne will seek her first-ever Wimbledon title in the coming weeks, as the most prestigious of all tennis events will commence June 26 at the All England Club.