US Open classics: Justine Henin-Hardenne vs Jennifer Capriati, semi final, 2003
In the summer of 2003, in one of the most exciting matches in women’s tennis, not just in US Open history, but also in the history of the game as a whole, two great players, Justine Henin-Hardenne of Belgium and Jennifer Capriati of USA, battled it out at the Flushing Meadows to earn a place in the final of the US Open.
When two experienced and top quality players such as these two clash, excellent tennis is expected from both, and that’s what tennis fans got on that day.
The match started with a display of good tennis from Henin-Hardenne. With consistent first serves, powerful forehand shots, great placement with the backhand and exquisite drop shots, she was able to outperform her opponent and took a lead of 4-1 in the first set and was looking good to grab the set. But somehow, Capriati started producing better tennis than she was in the initial stages of the set, picking up Henin-Hardenne’s drop shots on several occasions, impressive forehand winners and moving swiftly in the court. She staged a massive comeback and stunned Henin-Hardenne by winning the set 6-4.
The second set started on a totally opposite note to the first. This time, it was Capriati, with the momentum on her side and the home crowd behind her back, who looked in total control. Henin-Hardenne looked as if she had still not recovered from the first set onslaught from Capriati and was trailing 3-5 in the second set.
The match was starting to take a physical toll on both the players, with each game being played with full ferocity and several of the games resulting in long and tiring rallies. It was at this stage when Capriati started showing signs of fatigue. Sensing the advantage, Henin-Hardenne put up a spirited fightback.
Better serves, brilliant backhand cross-courts and thunderous forehand down the line on occasions, she displayed tennis of the highest class. It was Henin-Hardenne who took the set 7-5, coming from behind.
The match was levelled at a set apiece and the fans had already witnessed some of the most beautiful moments in the history of women’s tennis. They were expecting more and soon they were to get exactly that.
The third set began with the same vigour with both player testing each other’s skills.
Jennifer Capriati had never been in a US Open final and she was keen to get a berth. She was determined and once again she came close to achieving it. Leading the third and final set 5-2, Capriati apparently started sensing victory.
But call it her over-eagerness of finishing the match, loss of focus or physical tiredness, Capriati could not produce the kind of tennis that is required to seal a tight match against a player of Henin-Hardenne’s class. On the other hand, Henin-Hardenne started playing better. Good serves, better service returns, subtle drop shots from half volleys, her tennis was top class.
It was not that Capriati was not playing well, but Henin-Hardenne was doing slightly better and was starting to crawl her way back into the match. The match witnessed unbelievable tennis yet again from both of them.
Finally, after Henin-Haedenne successfully completed a daunting comeback, the final set went into a tie-breaker. It was at this moment that the enthralled crowd in the Arthur Ashe stadium gave the two players a fitting standing ovation. It is a rare incident for the crowd to salute both the players before the end of the match, but then again, such matches are rare and the two players quite deserved it.
Tired legs, a nerve cracking final set and now the match had finally came down to a thrilling tie break. Both the players were breathing heavily and the tie break was all about who could hold on longer, who had got enough energy left to pull off a win.
Capritai lost the first point in the tie break and that might have finally damaged her spirit. From there on, it was catch up game for her. Ultimately, it was Justine Henin-Hardenne who came out victorious in the tie break with a 7-4 scoreline. With that, this gruelling and exciting match came to an end at 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 [7-4] in the favour of the Belgian.
Such was the impact of the match on the players that the winner Henin-Hardenne did not make it to the post-match press conference as she suffered from dehydration and had to undergo treatment.
The quality of the players and the quality of the match makes this one a true classic.