With military precision, Belgium's Justine Henin hopes to invade the U.S. Open tennis championship by marching straight through Canada.
Standing in her way before she swings through New York later this month is today's final of the Rogers Cup against Jelena Jankovic. Jankovic defeated Tatiana Golovin 5-7, 6-3, 6-2 in the evening semi-final.
Henin, the world's No. 1 ranked women's player, is seeking her second U.S. title to add to six Grand Slams, but unlike other big names in the game, she saw this Canadian tournament as good timing for a run at Flushing Meadows. Yesterday's 6-3, 6-0 win over the Rogers' Cinderella story Yan Zi in the early semi-final was another positive step.
"It's not easy for me to play a player that I don't know that much about in singles," Henin said after dispatching Yan in 71 minutes. "That's not the kind of situation I prefer, but it's good, I have to deal with it sometimes and I think I did it in a very good way."
Henin isn't taking opponents lightly, yesterday or today. She had struggled previously with players such as Yan and Marion Bartoli, who can hit with two hands from both sides.
Yan came from 169th in the rankings and the fringes of Rogers Cup, qualifying to beat defending champ Ana Ivanovic on the road to the semi-finals. She'll be no worse than 80th when this week's rankings are posted.
The shy Chinese doubles specialist was the clear crowd favourite at the Rexall Centre, with several fans shouting encouragement in her native tongue. When she won a challenge to knot the first set at 3-3, applause rained down on her. She also charmed the crowd for stopping to fence with a bumblebee, who wouldn't stop buzzing her during her service in the second set. She is now off to the qualifying stages at Flushing Meadows.
But the gracious Henin certainly felt the crowd's love in the end after breaking service at that 3-3 stage and rattling off 11 consecutive points. She played near flawlessly in sweeping the final six games. Yan withstood some long baseline rallies, but Henin burned her at the net in key situations.
"After the first set, I think she knew how I played," Yan Zi said. "She was faster coming to the net, giving me more pressure."
Henin showed the expertise of a player who has been to 50 previous WTA Tour finals. (34-16).
This will be the third time in six years Henin has made the final of the Roger's Cup, winning in 2003 and runner-up in 2005. First prize is $196,900 with the runner-up earning $99,850.