posted on Aug, 31 2004 @ 08:24 PM
Her credentials are impeccable - No. 1 player in the world, winner of the Olympic gold medal. And yet, there were moments Tuesday at the U.S. Open
when Justine Henin-Hardenne was in trouble, challenged by a teenager who had never played in a Grand Slam event before.
Fifteen-year-old Nicole Vaidisova matched Henin-Hardenne shot for shot, broke her twice and had the U.S. Open defending champion down 1-4 in the
second set, annoyed if not in danger.
In the end, Henin-Hardenne prevailed, beginning defense of her title with a 6-1, 6-4 victory. After a 17-minute first set, the second set turned
Two other high-profile women had less trouble.
Former U.S. Open champion Lindsay Davenport, who came into this event seeded No. 5 with four straight hard-court tournament victories, defeated
Lubomira Kurhajcova 6-4, 6-0 in 50 minutes and French Open champion Anastasia Myskina, seeded No. 4, defeated Ludmila Cervanova 6-1, 6-0 in just 42
Davenport comes in at the top of her game.
"It was relatively unexpected to have that string of success for so long," she said. "I'm supremely confident and happy with where I'm at. I've felt
great all season."
Myskina said her wipeout of Cervanova could be deceptive.
"The score was really easy, but the game was not really easy because I know if you give her a little chance, she can take it and play her game,"
Henin-Hardenne could testify to that.
"I played well in the first set," the No. 1 player in the world said. "I was serving pretty good. And then I started to go to sleep a little bit at
the beginning of the second and she started to play better. I wasn't fully ready for it."
What to do?
Henin-Hardenne understood the pitfalls of playing someone like Vaidisova, an anonymous youngster on the other side of the net with nothing to lose.
She also knew a way out of the dilemma.
"This kind of player, they're all hitting the ball very hard, always not at the same rhythm," she said. "They're hitting the ball as hard as they can.
I need to use my game to play against this kind of game.
"I think that with my slice and with all my variations and everything I can (defeat) this kind of game. That's very important tactically."
So Henin-Hardenne reached into her arsenal for something different.
"Change the rhythm, that's for sure," she said., "That's what I did pretty good in Athens. I wasn't playing always at the same rhythm. I was playing
high balls, then I was coming to the net, then I was playing slowly. I think that's my game and I have to play like this."
Soon, the 1-4 deficit disappeared, wiped out when Henin-Hardenne found her poise and her game. It was just a matter of time before the No. 1 player in
the world finished the match. It was a lesson learned for Vaidisova.
"I missed my chances," the youngster said. "I had definitely chances in the second set and I let them slip away. I was excited to play the No. 1
player in the world, my first Grand Slam, Arthur Ashe Stadium. It's a great experience for next year."