Pain lingers for Henin-Hardenne

By wire services
Published January 29, 2006

MELBOURNE, Australia - At what point in a Grand Slam final does a player decide to tough it out though illness or injury, allowing an opponent to win the traditional way - closing out the contest on match point?

Or when does that ailing player decide that a loss seems likely, the pain is unbearable and continuing is simply not worthwhile?

The Australian Open women's final, won by Amelie Mauresmo on Saturday when Justine Henin-Hardenne retired with stomach problems trailing 6-1, 2-0, highlighted such questions.

"I was feeling so sick and I couldn't stay longer on the court," Henin-Hardenne said after she stopped playing and began sobbing at courtside. "I'm feeling very disappointed to end the tournament this way. I'm sorry I couldn't find a little bit more. There was no reason I could keep playing."

There were suggestions made to Mauresmo that perhaps Henin-Hardenne, whose official reason for retiring was listed as "gastrointestinal illness" - perhaps caused by a reaction to anti-inflammatory tablets - should have found a reason to play on.

"What can I say?" Mauresmo said. "Am I going to make controversy about that? No. That's not the day for this for me.

"I just knew I was ready to die on that court today. That's the way I was," the 26-year-old Frenchwoman said.

It was the second consecutive match and third in the tournament in which an opponent retired with illness or injury against Mauresmo.

Michaella Krajicek retired with heat stress in the third round and second-seeded Kim Clijsters retired after turning her ankle early in the third set of their semifinal on Thursday.

"I think for all of them there was a reason, and that reason was maybe the physical preparation," said Mauresmo, who was in peak condition for the tournament. "Today, maybe the nerves got in also. I'm just still wondering what happened."

Henin-Hardenne said she felt lousy before the match.

"I knew at the beginning ... I couldn't win it," she said. "You always want to try because you know it's a Grand Slam final. If I would have kept playing, maybe I would injure something else. I have no regrets."

Retirements in Grand Slam finals are rare.

Margaret Court Smith won an Australian Open title in 1965 when Maria Bueno retired in the third set with an injured ankle. She won by walkover the following year when Nancy Richey withdrew before the final.

In women's play, that hasn't happened in the Open Era, since 1968, at any of the other Grand Slams - the French Open, Wimbledon or the U.S. Open.

In men's play, Stefan Edberg retired in his final against Ivan Lendl in the 1990 Australian Open - in the third set with the sets level - the only time that's happened since 1968 in any Grand Slam.

Mauresmo, playing in her first Grand Slam final in seven years, knows there will be an unofficial asterisk next to her first major victory. But she'll take Saturday's win, even with the footnote.

"Things turn around at some point, and I had some tough moments myself," she said. "I just really take it as it comes. That's the way it is."