Clijsers Breaks Down Sharapova-Henin

I had the chance to interview Kim Clijsters by phone in Belgium this morning for an upcoming magazine article so I picked her brain a bit on the popcorn women’s match of the day: Justine Henin vs. Maria Sharapova. “That’s the one I’d like to watch,” agreed Clijsters, a two-time French Open finalist who is out nursing a muscle tear in her left foot sustained last month in Fed Cup. Unlike many players these days, Kind Kimmie was willing to offer some views on the highly anticipated contest.

First a few facts: Henin, 27, leads the head-to-head of the two former No. 1s 6-3, but Sharapova won their last meeting, blitzing the then-wavering Henin 6-4, 6-0 in the 2008 Australian Open quarterfinals. Four months later, Henin would retire. The four-time French Open winner got the best of Sharapova, 23, in their only meeting at Roland Garros in the last eight in 2005 and is 2-0 on dirt against her.

Clijsters, who told me she planned to hit today for just the second time since the injury (she hit once and the injury flared up, so she backed off), is leaning towards Henin. “I think Justine on clay is a little bit too tricky for Maria,” she said, praising her fellow Belgian’s ability to retrieve balls, mix spins and take Sharapova out of her rhythm. “On clay she cannot retrieve so many balls,” she said of Sharapova. “Maria is not the most handy player when it comes to putting spin on the ball or slicing balls back.” The two-time U.S. Open champ said Sharapova’s best hope is to dictate early in rallies and attack serves. “If Maria is ready to go and is sharp and gets a good look at the returns, she can be really dominant. A lot of it will depend on how Maria plays.” 


Tenth-ranked Clijsters, who beat Henin twice on hard courts in two meetings this year, has noticed Henin’s more aggressive style. “She is a lot more powerful and takes a lot more risk,” says Clijsters, who turns 27 on June 8. “That’s something that I’ve noticed in playing against her a couple times. She really goes for a lot more from the return onwards. Takes a lot of risks with her serve too. She gets a lot more free points as well.” 

So who is she going with to take home the hardware? Clijsters is leaning towards Henin to win the whole tournament, especially because it means so much to her. “Her connection to the French Open will automatically bring that focus more easy than, say, at the U.S. Open,” says Clijsters. “That is definitely an advantage for her.” The Belgian hedged a bit and said there are a number of names that could prevail. “To me Venus and Serena in any Grand Slam are up there, though Venus not as much at the French as at Wimbledon.”  Clijsters also mentioned Jelena Jankovic and Sam Stosur. 

“A few names have caught my eye in the last few weeks, including (Aravane) Rezai,” she added of the surprise Madrid champion. “She’s a player, too, that in the past, I’ve seen her beat good players but not through a whole tournament…She looks fitter than in the past. That’s a big difference for her game because she has always been able hit the ball really hard but a lot of times without control. When she had to step out wide she had to go for it because she couldn’t do anything else. She can retrieve more balls and hang in there more.”

Also, in case you missed this doubles story on Bopanna-Qureshi from Friday, here’s the link.


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