Belgian artistry faces Williams power

Click to follow
The Independent Online

There could hardly be a bigger contrast between the respective opponents in today's women's semi-finals.

The Belgians, Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters, represent some of the more traditional values in the game. They will take on the biggest, brashest sister act in sport as the world's top four players come face to face in the last four.

Venus and Serena Williams have a consuming commitment to winning, yet it is unlikely that many spectators will complain if it turns out that their power game is defused by a more delicate touch, thus preventing a repeat of last year's Williams family final.

Last month Henin-Hardenne, a mere 5ft 5in, showed that change is possible and that size does not always matter. Serena was reduced to tears after the Belgian's controversial victory in the French Open semi-finals where the Californian's magnificent run of four Grand Slam triumphs came to a halt.

The sisters' outspoken father, Richard, admitted that he wanted to "yell" at Henin-Hardenne for what he considered unforgivable gamesmanship in Paris after she had raised a hand to indicate that she was not ready while Serena was serving.

Williams served a fault but her opponent's gesture was not noticed by the umpire and Henin-Hardenne did not agree to play a let. The Wimbledon champion was subsequently jeered by the crowd following a number of disputed line-calls. Both players insist, however, that they will maintain a professional attitude despite those incidents.

"I've tried to keep that aggression from Paris and I think I've done a good job of it here," said Henin-Hardenne. "There is no problem between us from what happened in France.

"We are professional enough to forget it and I really don't mind about Richard Williams. He can make what comments he wants."

Henin-Hardenne is determined to channel her aggression into securing a third win in a row over Serena, having also come out on top in their meeting on clay in Charleston earlier this year.

"Serena's power on the grass is going to make it harder for me than in Roland Garros or Charleston, but I like the grass too and I'll just try to stay aggressive and go to the net," she said.

Henin-Hardenne, 21, who lost the 2001 Wimbledon final to Venus and went out to Serena in last year's semi-finals, is convinced her own accession to a Grand Slam title has made her a stronger player and she has shown a growing maturity since her marriage to Pierre-Yves Hardenne last November.

Henin-Hardenne does not have a close relationship with Clijsters, who, at 20, is a year younger than her compatriot. "They are both from Belgium, but they are not sisters and I don't think they are having dinner or anything like that," said Lindsay Davenport, who went out to Venus in the quarter-finals.

Yet there is no doubt that she Henin-Hardenne would want her fellow Belgian to defeat Venus and set up a possible repeat of their Paris final. It was scant revenge for Clijsters when Henin-Hardenne retired in their next match, handing her the Ordina Open title in 's-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands, a few days before Wimbledon. Henin-Hardenne had sprained her non-serving hand which is likely still to be strapped today.

If Clijsters were to win another all-Belgian final on Saturday she would take over from Serena as world No 1. First, though, she must resist Venus, who, over the past week and a half, has rediscovered much of the style which won her the title in 2000 and 2001.