One day, one epic match: Henin - Kuznetsova (4th round 2005)

 - Simon Cambers

Relive the match between Justine Henin and Svetlana Kuznetsova at the 4th round of Roland-Garros 2005

Henin & Kuznetsova at Roland-Garros 2005©FFT

Rolandgarros.com invites you to experience the 2020 tournament on the original dates by looking back at some of the most memorable matches from the past, round by round. Today, Monday 1 June, we look back to 2005 and a lung-busting match that saw Justine Henin snatch victory from the jaws of defeat against Svetlana Kuznetsova, a win that helped the Belgian on her way to the second of her four Roland-Garros crowns.

The context

Henin had won Roland-Garros in 2003 and already owned three Grand Slam titles by the time the 2005 event began, though her ranking had dipped to No 12 after a virus which affected her early in 2004. After winning the gold medal at the Olympics in Athens, she missed the last couple of months of 2004.

The Belgian had won six of her seven meetings with Kuznetsova and her confidence was restored after she won clay-court titles in Warsaw and Berlin. But Kuznetsova, who had picked up the first of two Grand Slam titles by triumphing at the US Open the previous year, had pushed Henin close in the Warsaw final so Henin would have known she was in for a battle.

Svetlana Kuznetsova Roland-Garros 2005©FFT

The match

Though she had won her first Grand Slam title on hard courts, Kuznetsova had a game made for clay, a great athlete who revelled in baseline rallies but whose clay-court nous meant that she liked to play with touch and knew her way around the net too. Kuznetsova had her chances to win the first set, too, especially in the tiebreak, which she led 5-2 before Henin rallied to pinch it 8-6.

But Kuznetsova continued to attack, going up 4-1 in the second and though Henin got one of the breaks back, the world No 7 served out the set to take it to a decider.

Both players had one thigh strapped by this stage as the gruelling nature of the rallies began to take their toll. Henin broke to lead 2-0 but Kuznetsova broke straight back and then marched to a 5-3 lead.

Justine Henin during Roland-Garros 2005©Christophe Guibbaud / FFT

The Russian then forced match point on the Henin serve but was visibly tight, missing her chance for victory when she slapped a wayward forehand. A mishit from Henin gave her a second chance but second time round, the nerves were even more obvious and she put a tame backhand slice in the net.

Up the other end of the court, Henin, who had won all three of her finals before Roland-Garros that year, sensed the weakness in her opponent and she held for 4-5 before breaking Kuznetsova as she served for the match to level at 5-5. As the belief drained from the Russian, Henin held for 6-5 and then broke again to clinch a 7-6, 4-6, 7-5 victory after more than three hours.

What they said

It's a kind of miracle,” said Henin. “I managed to stay in the match even though I was not able to play my best tennis. I felt she was nervous when she had match point(s). I could see she was afraid to win the match. When you see that in the eyes of your opponent it makes you feel very good."

"I feel like the match was in my hands, I had so many chances," Kuznetsova told reporters. "I was dictating the points and I felt much fitter than her. I guess maybe her experience showed in the end. It was tough, she didn't miss. She just put the ball in. I just stopped (playing), I was a little bit confused, I didn't know what I had to do."

Match stats

Kuznetsova hit two more winners and won two more points in the match than Henin.

What happened next ?

The scare clearly loosened Henin up because the Belgian went on to beat Maria Sharapova, Nadia Petrova and then, in a final which lasted just 62 minutes, the former champion Mary Pierce to win Roland-Garros for the second time. She would triumph again the following year, beating Kuznetsova in the final, and again in 2007. She was ranked No 1 for 117 weeks and after retiring suddenly in 2008, she returned in 2010 only to retire for a second time in 2011.

Kuznetsova endured the disappointment of losing to Henin again in the 2006 final but finally got the Roland-Garros title she deserved when she won in 2009, beating Dinara Safina in the final. And even as she prepares to turn 35 later this month, she’s still out there playing and is ranked No 32.

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