Henin-Hardenne takes advantage as Clijsters loses the mental battle

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JUSTINE Henin-Hardenne is through to her second Wimbledon singles final after beating Kim Clijsters 6-4, 7-6, but her victory owed as much to her fellow-Belgian's frailties as it did to her own virtues.

Clijsters, the No 2 seed, was in a strong position in both sets, but on each occasion was unable to hold on to her lead for long. When the pressure was off she played some excellent tennis: when it was on, her old insecurities came to the fore, and her grittier opponent was able to take advantage.

In the first set, Clijsters broke Henin-Hardenne in the seventh game - normally regarded as critical - to go 4-3 up. But the 2001 finalist broke back immediately and then went 5-4 up, forcing Clijsters to serve to stay in the set. She did not come close to succeeding, failing to take a single point and throwing in a double fault along the way.

Clijsters did at least improve on that at the critical stage of the second set, holding her serve from 4-5 down to stay in the match. She then broke Henin-Hardenne to lead 6-5, but again could not come close to taking the game that would level the match at a set apiece. The No 3 seed then took a firm grip on the tiebreak, in which she took three points off her adversary's serve en route to a 7-4 win.

So, five years after playing second fiddle to Venus Williams, Henin-Hardenne will have another chance to collect the Venus Rosewater Dish. A lot has changed since then, of course, not least the fact that, whereas then she was making her first appearance in a Grand Slam final, now she has five such titles to her name - an Australian Open, a US Open, and three French Opens, including this year's.

"At that time I was still very young," the 24-year-old from Liege said. "All my successes in Grand Slams, and all my victories on the tour and the fact that I grew up - that gave me confidence. That's the biggest difference, I would say.

"It's a long time ago. It seems very far away from now. I lost my grandfather that day, so it's very emotional for me again. That was someone I loved so much and I was very close to him, so I will have a lot of motivation on Saturday."

Although this semi-final win takes the head-to-head series to just 12-10 in the victor's favour, there is little doubt that in recent years Clijsters has had to play second fiddle to her compatriot, especially in big matches.

Henin-Hardenne is simply a tougher competitor mentally, although Clijsters was reluctant to accept that.

"I don't think so," she replied when asked if the result had been decided on psychological rather than technical grounds. " I think she was just the better player today.

"Maybe in [our] previous matches I never felt like I gave her my best tennis, and that's what frustrated me more. But today I felt I was doing as well as I could do. I should have hit a few more lines to win a couple of important points, but that's tennis.

"You start with two on the court and one of them has to lose. Today that's me. [I need to] just keep working hard so that next time it will be me coming off the court as a winner."

Of course she needs to keep working hard. There is more to it than that, however, if she is to get the better of her more resilient opponent.

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