Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Daily Backspin, RG 14: Restoring Order

All hail "The Pigeon Queen."

Justine Henin-Hardenne is 22-1 in her last twenty-three matches at Roland Garros, and defended her title on Saturday to become champion for the third time in the past four years. Accomplishments to behold, for sure... but maybe not as much as being the sole survivor -- or is it the focal point? -- of the pusillanimous plan that the pigeons of Paris hatched from their safe havens above the fray two weeks ago.

Only two of the fine-feathered friends of Justine that were in on the plot had the courage to venture onto the court during the tournament, but their appearance was enough to start the Sharapova over Washington, Safina over Sharapova, Kuznetsova over Safina... and then Henin-Hardenne over Kuznetsova chain reaction that resulted in today's final.

On Friday's "Late Show with David Letterman," it was said that "scientists have been studying pigeons, and say they're definitely up to something." The statement was meant to be a joke, but it was more riddled with truth than anyone could have ever imagined. Agree or disagree with the pigeons' passive-aggressive tactics, but you've got to admire them for their devious genius. It looks like they got the result they wanted.

(Hmmm... maybe I've been too hard on the little guys. I mean, if they like Justine they can't be ALL bad, right?)

This final act in the plan was the least dramatic of the string of lost opportunities for one player that were turned into gold by another, though. There were no huge leads blown this time around. But the final match wasn't a breeze for JHH like her '03 and '05 championship matches against Kim Clijsters and Mary Pierce, either. Svetlana Kuznetsova, while not as harshly single-minded in pursuit of the title as, say, Henin-Hardenne at the 2003 U.S. Open, at least forced the Belgian to win the match rather than ceremonially handing over the title to her. The score was 6-4/6-4 and, in the end, JHH only led 69-64 in total points.

Though one wonders what might have happened had the Russian walked through the one door that opened for her in the opening stages of the 2nd set. If Kuznetsova had maintained her slight advantage, and pushed a tiring Henin-Hardenne into a 3rd set she might have actually won this title. Winning in straight sets, even though they were close ones, didn't totally break JHH's trend for the majority of a season where she's either won easily (and quickly) or teetered on the edge and failed to pull out one of those long, three-setters that used to be her hallmark. Kuznetsova could have made her prove she could still win a match like that, but she didn't come up with the goods when it was still possible to force Henin-Hardenne into a corner from which she would have to fight out. Much like with Amelie Mauresmo's three uncompleted matches in Melbourne, JHH took this title without ever having to stare down the evil eye of defeat that lurks on the outer edges of a long day.

But, as with the Australian Open, they'll be no asterisk here. No tarnished trophy, either. This slam crown will line up rather nicely alongside her other four, not to mention tie her with Martina Hingis and Venus Williams on the career majors list.

So, after a string of slams that saw Venus emerge from a few years of shadows at Wimbledon, then Clijsters and Mauresmo outrun their reputations to win their first titles, this tournament proved something that we (including myself) should never have questioned. Justine Henin-Hardenne still rules Roland Garros, as she should. Order has been restored.

JHH herself stated after the match that all the controversy of January should now be history, and that the time to more forward has arrived. Bygones are bygone... as if there was ever any doubt that that SHOULD be the case.

Allez Justine. All hail the Pigeon Queen.


[5-2 career]
1-1...Australian Open
3-0...Roland Garros
1-0...U.S. Open

[ ]-most recent
7...Serena Williams ['05 Australian]
5...Venus Williams ['05 Wimbledon]
5...Martina Hingis ['99 Australian]

12...Martina Hingis (5-7)
11...Venus Williams (5-6)
9....Serena Williams (7-2)
7....Lindsay Davenport (3-4)
6....Mary Pierce (2-4)
5....Kim Clijsters (1-4)

4...Nadia Petrova
3...Amelie Mauresmo
3...Shahar Peer

Antwerp -- Amelie Mauresmo


Emily Westacott, the record ninth consecutive different slam winner when she claimed the Australian Open in 1939, can rest easy. She won't have to make any awkward conversation with a would-be ninth straight slam winner from 2004-06 ("You wear WHAT on court when you play, dear? My goodness."). That possibility died when Nicole Vaidisova lost to Kuznetsova in the semifinals.

But as Emily goes back into her comfortable corner of history, she should keep her future personal schedule open. The current streak of different champions stands at four (Venus-Clijsters-Mauresmo-JHH), so she might be called upon to prepare for a possible dinner guest in, oh, around a year's time, when there very well could be eight consecutive different champions all over again.

Not likely, but don't necessarily bet against it.

Unfortunately, Pierre didn't file his women's final prediction in time for it to be included in yesterday's preview. (See, like I said, this final WAS something of an afterthought.) But, considering his original pick for the final (JHH def. Kuznetsova) held up, I doubt if he would have gone out on the proverbial limb and picked against himself so late in the game.

Congrats to him.

(But, hey, at least I picked the 6-4/6-4 final score correct, right?)
_____________________________ Day 14 action, Jonas Bjorkman & Max Mirnyi defended their Doubles title with a win over the Bryan brothers. It's Bjorkman's ninth career slam doubles title, and Mirnyi's sixth.

Emiliano Massa & Kei Nishikori won the Junior Boys Doubles, while Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova & Sharon Fichman defeated Agnieszka Radwanska & Caroline Wozniacki for the Girls Doubles crown. The Pavlyuchenkova/Fichman team also won the Girls title at the Australian Open in January.

In fact, Russia's Pavlyuchenkova plays tomorrow in the Girls final (vs. Radwanska, once again) with the opportunity to pull a double-double, sweeping both the singles and doubles titles at Oz and Roland Garros.

In tomorrow's Women's Doubles final, Lisa Raymond & Samantha Stosur try to make up for losing the Australian title, facing off against Daniela Hantuchova & Ai Sugiyama.

Then, of course, there's that OTHER final, too

#2 Nadal d. #1 Federer in 5 sets

...60, not 4. Henin-Hardenne and Bjorkman/Mirnyi have already defended their 2005 Roland Garros titles. On Sunday, Rafa tries to make a third defense attempt a charm for him, as well.

All for Day 14.





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