Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Brits Shamed by Belgian Success

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Brits Shamed by Belgian Success

Article excerpt


THE appearance of Belgium's Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne in tomorrow's French Open women's singles final at Roland Garros proves that world-class talent can be nurtured on a minuscule budget.

They will bring their small country to a standstill and prove Belgium can produce more than the odd cyclist and footballer without the kind of multimillion pound windfall the Lawn Tennis Association pockets from Wimbledon each year.

Henin-Hardenne has snatched the headlines away from her great friend Clijsters, whose ranking of world No2 and relationship with Lleyton Hewitt has raised her profile around the world.

Now, fourth seed Henin-Hardenne is the toast of Belgium, having ended defending champion Serena Williams's run of four successive Grand Slam victories with an amazing 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 win yesterday.

She would also appear to be the toast of France, given the Paris crowd's ecstatic reaction to Serena's defeat. The younger Williams sister was in tears after being jeered when questioning two line calls midway through the final set.

"I'm not used to crying and I'm sorry about that but it was a tough crowd out there - very tough," she said afterwards.

Henin-Hardenne said: "It was like two fighters trying to win the semi-final with Serena and it was a little bit easier to play her on clay where her power is not so great.

It's an amazing situation for Belgium to have two players in the final and I will fight for every point to try and win my first Grand Slam."

Clijsters, who is 20 on Sunday, had an easier 7-5, 6-1 win over Nadia Petrova of Russia and said: "To play Justine in the final means it has become a real Belgian Slam! We grew up together and know each other really well."

Henin-Hardenne defeated Clijsters in the final of the German Open in Berlin earlier this year, but has a 5-7 career record against the second seed going back to their first meeting as professionals in 1998.

Belgium has just 200,000 players and 6,000 courts compared to the 2.8million who play on more than 35,000 British courts.

The statistics become even more amazing because while the LTA boasts an annual budget of [pounds sterling]40m, the Belgian Tennis Federation has only [pounds sterling]3. …

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