By Pritha Sarkar
PARIS, June 9 (Reuters) - An irresistible Justine Henin carved her name alongside the great figures of claycourt tennis at the French Open on Saturday.
The Belgian dished out a painful 6-1 6-2 lesson to Serbian school student Ana Ivanovic to become the first woman since tennis turned professional in 1968 to win back-to-back Roland Garros crowns without dropping a set.
Henin scrutinised hand-written notes during the changeovers which reminded her “You are the best” and instructed her to “get to the net”.
Fittingly the world number one swiped away a high volley on match point to seal a hat-trick of victories in Paris. She became only the second woman, after Monica Seles, to pull off the feat since World War II.
As her racket went flying out of her hands, the Belgian leaned on the net and held her head in disbelief. After taking a moment to absorb the enormity of her achievement, she held her arms aloft and tilted her head skywards in memory of her mother.
It was Henin’s fourth success since 2003 but this victory meant more to the Belgian than any of her others -- as for the first time, her siblings David, Thomas and Sarah were courtside to watch her triumph after years of estrangement.
“The adventure continues... third time in a row at Roland Garros and it feels incredible,” the beaming six-times grand slam champion told the crowd, tightly clutching the trophy.
“I’ve had tough times at the start of the year but this has made it all worth while. I’ve found my family again and it’s a great pleasure to fight for them, too. I wanted this victory so much.”
The Belgian has sought solace on various tennis courts around the world since her marriage to Pierre-Yves Hardenne broke down at the turn of the year and nowhere does she feel more at home than on final’s day on Philippe Chatrier Court.
The last time she dropped a set here was in the fourth round in 2005.
It took Henin only 65 magical minutes to finish another masterly campaign in the French capital and take her record streak of consecutive sets to 35.
After trampling over world number three Svetlana Kuznetsova and second-ranked Maria Sharapova to reach her first major final, 19-year-old Ivanovic had harboured hopes of sabotaging Henin’s path to greatness.
Instead, the seventh seed never overcame her nerves and suffered the same fate as the Belgian’s last 20 opponents in Paris.
“It’s been a very exciting two weeks for me,” said Ivanovic, who had been hoping to become the first player representing Serbia to capture a grand slam.
“I‘m really happy to be here but I would have been even more happy if I could have held the trophy.”
Yet to sit her final exams in school, Ivanovic appeared to have done her homework well when she fired down crunching forehand winners in the opening game to stun Henin, who dropped her serve with a tame double fault.
If the champion was rattled, she did not show it.
As Ivanovic’s serve malfunctioned time and again, Henin ran away with eight games before the Serbian broke the spell to hold serve for the first time in the match at 6-1 2-1 down.
The reprieve only delayed the inevitable and by the end it was hard not to feel sorry for the Serb, who honed her skills playing in an drained swimming pool as bombs fell on Belgrade.
As the cheering crowd rose to applaud Henin, she became fifth woman since 1925 to win the French title four or more times, joining greats Chris Evert, Steffi Graf, Margaret Court and Helen Wills Moody.
It also boosted her bank balance by a cool 1,000,000 euros ($1.34 million)