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Tennis: Just in or Justine? Close call for Henin; AUSTRALIAN OPEN TENNIS.

Byline: KRISS DOUGLAS in Melbourne

IN FRONT of 15,000 screaming Aussies and one furious Lleyton Hewitt, Kim Clijsters was robbed of her chance to claim her first Grand Slam title here yesterday.

Justine Henin-Hardenne, Clijsters's Belgian rival, was gifted a vital service break deep in the heart of the third set and from there went on to claim the championship 6-3, 4-6, 6-3. She now holds the French, US and Australian Open trophies.

The woman Serena Williams had branded a cheat and a liar at the French Open had done it again.

Back in Paris, Williams had been reduced to floods of tears as Henin-Hardenne appealed to the crowd and the umpire at the climax of their semi-final.

Refusing to acknowledge to the umpire that she had tried to delay Williams as she tried to serve, she cost the American the game and ultimately the match.

This time there were no tears, but the result was just the same.

Facing a break point, Clijsters pounded a volley deep into the corner of the court. The line judge called it good. Those watching on television knew that the shot was good.

Henin-Hardenne immediately signalled that the shot was long and the French umpire, Sally De Jenken, followed her lead.

"The umpire took her responsibilities," Henin-Hardenne said, without apology. "I think it was a very tough call but I think it was just long.

"It was important because it was a break. I needed to take the game with this point because I had lost three games in a row. Right now I don't care too much about this."

As for Clijsters, she did not want to get involved. As the fiancee of Hewitt, she is virtually an adopted Aussie and she was not going to blot her copy book by getting involved in a row. She may have lost the match but she knew she had won the public relations battle.

"I'm not the type of player who is going to start complaining after a match," she said. "It's very disappointing especially as a few people have told me that the ball was in. But I don't want to start trouble or anything."

It was the third time in a Grand Slam final that Henin-Hardenne had beaten Clijsters, but this time the match meant more than ever before.

For the first time Henin-Hardenne was coming into the final as the world No1, the top seed and the woman expected to win. Keeping her place at the top of the rankings depended on her winning the title.

"I was feeling very tense," she said. "I was very nervous about closing the match. I have to be honest. Two years ago I couldn't win this kind of match. Today I did. It's a big evolution.

"That was a big fight today. I understand that the crowd gave her a lot of support and most of them wanted her to win. I knew that playing here in Australia would give Kim a lot of motivation to win. So I am very happy.

"It's unbelievable. Three Grand Slams in six months is amazing."


WONDER DOWN UNDER: Justine Henin-Hardenne holds the trophy after her battle with Kim Clijsters
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Feb 1, 2004
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