Henin faces Williams sister in German Open final _ again

Saturday, May 11th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BERLIN (AP) _ Belgian teen-ager Justine Henin might be ranked higher than eighth if she didn't keep running into Venus Williams.

The 19-year-old reached her fourth final of the year at the German Open Saturday with an upset of Jennifer Capriati after losing the first three to Williams.

``I have to think positive, after all I've been in three finals and two of the matches were very close,'' Henin said. ``Maybe tomorrow is my day.''

But she will have to get past a Williams again, this time younger sister Serena, who ousted unseeded Anna Smashova of Israel to reach her first clay court final.

``Henin played a great match today, I'm just going to go out and have some fun,'' said Serena, who ran her record to 18-1 this year.

Henin was helped by a two-hour rain delay as she charged back to upset Capriati 5-7, 6-2, 6-1, spoiling the American's chance to regain the No. 1 ranking.

Capriati, who needed to win the title to pass Venus Williams at the top, led 7-5, 2-2 when a storm hit on a muggy hot day at the dlrs 1.22 million event, a major tuneup for the French Open.

``It seemed like a different match afterward, almost a different day. Everything slowed down _ that favored her,'' Capriati said.

Williams simply overpowered Smashova, drawing cheers for her spectacular shots and sweeping the match in just 71 minutes.

Williams could reach a career high No. 3 with the title Sunday, but said she didn't put any special significance on winning an event on clay, a slow surface the American used to struggle on.

``I just think of it as another tournament that I'd like to do well at,'' Williams said. ``I'm satisfied with the way I'm moving on clay.''

Capriati came back from the long rain break and clearly struggled, winning only one of 11 games and slamming two costly double faults that cost her the final set.

Henin ended the match in just under two hours when Capriati's forehand sailed long.

``For sure the rain delay helped me after I lost the first set,'' Henin said. ``The balls were heavier _ which helped me, but that wasn't the reason for the result.''

Capriati didn't regard the loss as a setback as she prepares to defend her French Open title, with the grand slam starting in two weeks.

``No, not really. I lost in the first round at Rome just before the French and it didn't really matter,'' Capriati said.

Winning the German Open would have allowed her to pass Venus Williams at the top of the rankings.

Smashova, the world's 35th ranked player, was the first Israeli ever to reach the semis of a major tournament. The German Open belongs to the group second in importance to the grand slams.

She had almost no chance against Williams, who looked far more comfortable than in past years in adjusting to clay, which involves a gliding motion.

``It's like riding a bike, you don't forget to slide, and I think I've made the adjustment mentally, that you have to hit a 1,000 balls back,'' she said.

Williams, playing her first tournament this year on European clay, has had an easy path to the final, with 10th-ranked Amelie Mauresmo withdrawing from their quarterfinal match with a neck injury.

Williams said she was going to call older sister Venus after the match.

``I'll tell her I won and you're still No. 1,'' she said.

Henin, who lost the Wimbledon final last year to Venus Williams, forced Capriati to scramble to save three set points before the American could finally win the first set.

The two players smashed power shots, throwing in lobs, net rushes and drop shots, with the 5,000 spectators cheering wildly.

``The level and intensity of the first set was very high, which was why the break was good for me,'' Henin said. ``After I lost the first set, I told my coach, well I tried. He said think about what happens after the rain delay.''

But if Capriati managed to raise the level of her game under pressure before the break, after the storm hit, she had no answers as Henin whipped winners all over the court.

``She played well, if she could play like that all the time, Henin would be ranked higher,'' Capriati said.

Henin has come close against Venus Williams twice this year, forcing a third set both times, and blowing a 6-2, 4-0 lead at Amelia Island against the top-ranked American.