January 27th, 2011
11:48 AM ET

Tennis will miss the elegance of Henin ...

Will the women's game be poorer now that Henin has retired?
Will the women's game be poorer now that Henin has retired?

When Justine Henin announcement her return to tennis at the end of 2009, I, like most tennis fans was delighted. The Belgian’s game is simply poetry in motion and so dramatically different from that of the current crop, with only few exceptions.

In her prime, she showed size didn’t really matter and - unlike players such as Martina Hingis - she was able to challenge the "big babes." It was refreshing to see that women’s tennis could be about more than just booming ground-strokes. She was the player who made me want to watch.

Kim Clijsters showed that you could return a champion after a lay-off from the game when she clinched her second U.S. Open title in 2009, so when Justine reached the Australian Open final in 2010 it seemed that women’s tennis was returning to a golden age.

It proved to be a false dawn as once again injuries to the top players reduced the competitiveness of the tour. This year’s Australian Open has provided a real shot in the arm though. There have been some really great matches and the likes of Francesca Schiavone, Li Na, Svetlana Kuznetsova and others have more than made up for the absence of defending champion Serena Williams.

That’s why I’m so disappointed to hear that Henin has been forced to call it a day for the second and certainly final time. Women’s tennis really is on the up and not a long way from being just as exciting as the men’s.

There’s a young crop of talent emerging and to go along with those who have been around for a while.
Of course I understand her announcement to finish. Playing in severe pain is no fun at all and it means Henin has given up her quest for the only major to allude her, Wimbledon. Victory at the All England Club was after all her main reason for coming back to the game.

I only met Justine once and it was an absolute pleasure. Though quite shy, the passion and intensity within her was there for all to see. I feel strangely emotional writing this, for I know it’s unlikely I will ever see the feisty Belgian playing tennis the beautiful way again. I will miss her. Tennis certainly will too.

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soundoff (33 Responses)
  1. Sachiko

    Hi, Candy! Henin had less power than others, especially serve was vulnerable, that had made her overwhelming others on clay. Her sharpness, game plan, variety of shots are incredible. Glorious one-handed backhand was a treasure of tennis. I have also loved her mental strength and character, so it's a shame many people had tended to misunderstand her personality. She had been a owner of a lonely heart. But she is reconciled with family now, wish the best of luck and happiness in next page of her life.

    January 27, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Reply
  2. Brian B

    I will miss Justine as well. She has the greatest backhand that the game has ever seen. The power she generated from such a small frame was incredible.

    January 27, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Reply
  3. alehandro

    Firsty, she retired she didn't die. Secondly, her era as a champion was already gone. She over-achieved for her size at a time when, aside from Serena and Venus, the big power players were just getting into their stride. To do that, she had to beef herself up, and on little frame like hers that was bound to create problems further down the line. Funny nobody asked how she put on all that muscle?

    She was a beautiful player technically but had a haunted miserable public personality on and off court that was not endearing to anyone. She also had a selfish streak, who cam forget her denying Amelie Mauresom the glory of winning her first grand slam title in style by retiring "hurt" at the 2006 Australian Open final while losing heavily. It wasn't an injury it was stomach cramps, and the classy thing to do would have been to take a bathroom break then at least
    tough it out to the end to allow Amelie her moment of glory. Instead she tanked, making it seem as if the French woman won the title by default. So I have mixed feelings about her career and her departure. She was a talent, but not exactly little Miss Sunshine was she?

    January 27, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Reply
  4. benny

    Alehandro, thank you for your possitive reaction on this. You are american? I wouldn't be suprised. Only they are the best in everything.
    Justine! You were very good, one of the best all time. No matter what they say, thank you Justine, for your great tennis, and exciting tv moments! We will miss you!

    January 27, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Reply
  5. Jo

    What a shame, she'll be missed.
    Up the Belgium!

    January 27, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Reply
  6. Once 11

    As an Australian tennis player for many years, I know technical perfection when i see it – Henin is perfection. Technical tennis perfection with panache, artistry and grit. I would get goose bumps watching her play. Her backhand is the reincarnation of technical elegance only equivocated by another virtuoso Roger Federer another class act.

    I will miss Henin and still marvel at the backhand when i watch you tube. Her backhand is how i was taught to hit it and all aspects of her game. I was instructed to play just like Henin, before Henin arrived on the scene. Congrats to Henin's coaches which if i am correct were from Espagna.

    I am hopeful many of the new up and coming women tennis players will model their game on Henin adding their own identity.

    January 27, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Reply
  7. Larry

    Justine was a pleasure to watch, and her backhand was indeed a thing of beauty. However, she was a very poor sport at times. I still recall how she cheated Serena in the French Open by holding up her hand, disturbing Serena's second serve, which was a fault, and then denying that she had done so. Everyone, including Serena, saw her interrupt the serve, but the chair umpire did not. Justine went on to beat a shaken Serena. It was just a sickening moment for women's tennis.

    January 27, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Reply
  8. Joan

    Alehandro, you must be dumb. Ive had the chance to meet Justine Hénin and needless to say she's a very sweet and VERY funny lady. You must not remember her match against Yannick Noah for a return of the Battle of the Sexes? And she definitely doesnt have any more muscle than the rest of the ladies in tennis, i dont see where youre trying to go with this. You're obviously a bitter person who'd rather see her pushed to the side so some of the younger people can get through, than an honest critic of real talent and real beauty. Hope you get the chance to meet her someday: and if she seems offputting to you i suppose thats because you definitely deserve it.

    January 27, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Reply
  9. erik

    What a shame. Tennis will not be the same without her talent.

    January 27, 2011 at 7:38 pm | Reply
  10. Al

    What a shame! A real loss tothe women's game

    January 27, 2011 at 7:55 pm | Reply
  11. R4L

    No! We won't. She is a cheater and constantly gets coached while on court. Bye Bye.

    However, she is a star and as the Williams, Clijsters, and now Henin play less and less, I fear the women's feel is becoming dull and lacks the star power it needs to progress. Wozniacki demise at the AO is unfortunate as she needs a grand slam to maintain the hype.

    January 27, 2011 at 8:14 pm | Reply
  12. Paula Ferrand

    I believe that WTA is FULL of "little Miss Sunshine" and too much fashion, too much pretty faces and nothing of the variety, power, talent and real will. It seems that very few players at the current Women’s tennis are really good as Justine was. So that’s a reason to be sad about Justine retirement.

    Women’s tennis great stars are injured or retired: Williams sisters, Dementieva and now Henin and very few players now are excellent and Gran Slam winners like Clisters is and like Justine was.

    I really hope that at least some of the young players will take their chance to shine and consolidate their game and show that they can be more than just “little Miss Sunshine”. People tend to believe that just the pretty faces are worth to watch and that way of think is killing the tennis quality at the WTA. So I hope that the people can see beyond the beauty comparison like in Schiavone – Wozniacki match; and be able to see real good tennis, real good matches, real variety, real good shots and real good players.

    It's very sad to finish a career as the way Henin has to. I have no doubt about her tremendous fighting spirit, her Will is just amazing. I will always admire her. She had a great career and she always will have her name on the Tennis History.
    Justine will be much missed!

    January 27, 2011 at 9:34 pm | Reply
  13. Peggy Hand

    Justine was a beautiful and wonderful player. Her slight frame was made up for by a heart and courage greater than a lions. She was a great lady and a great player. I wish her a wonderful life in the future.
    Unfortunately there are not many people like her left in sport today.
    May she attain all of her future goals in life.

    January 27, 2011 at 9:59 pm | Reply
  14. Dries

    To Alehandro: It is a pitty that you have such a negative view on one of the best tennis players of all time - men and women.

    The story of the final against Mauresmo and about the alledged unsportive play against Serena keep hauntig her while, at this point in time, everyone who follows the sport should know that she was cleared on both occasions. Google on it - please. Find the facts. They are out there waiting for you. Both stories are nonesense.

    I will most definetely miss her extraordinary grace and technical perfection. Even Federer can learn from it. It is a great loss for women tennis and tennis as a whole. Never before did a women player achieve this level of technical perfection.

    January 27, 2011 at 10:05 pm | Reply
  15. Kelly

    Justine was a fantastic player, and her 1-handed backhand was the best the game has ever seen, men or women. The hosanna's from McEnroe, Graf, Agassi, Edberg and Martina Navratilova speak louder than bitter fans of Henin's foes who looked lesser on court next that her shimmering talent.

    Actually, Henin seemed to player stronger when she was shy and looking inward. As the years went on the Belgian became more outgoing and expressive, embracing the world. Perhaps this didn't help the fire against the rivals as we would all love to have seen.

    Justine Henin was the John Lennon of women's tennis. Personal, complex, quiet, and a misunderstood genius.

    January 27, 2011 at 10:54 pm | Reply
  16. iwonder

    During Billie Jean King's time, she was my idol. But when Justine Henin was at the top of her prime, she was the most complete player I have ever watched on TV. Her game was always flawless and I admire her as a human being too. She will be missed and she will always be loved.

    January 28, 2011 at 12:02 am | Reply
  17. Marco Alcantara

    I cant think of any woman who play as nice and elegant and flawless like her. I'll miss Justine! The world of Tennis will.

    January 28, 2011 at 1:48 am | Reply
  18. alehandro

    Benny. Not American, South American, but have global perspective as I've lived in many countries. Joan and Dries, not negative just balanced. Justine was a talented and elegant player, as I said, but while she may have been a real hoot in private, the public can only base their impressions on the image she projected, which was cold and dour. Furthermore, to say she didn't have a ruthless streak that occasionally crossed the line is to look at her through rose tinted glasses. Which you're entitled to do. I just take a more realistic view. She will be missed but, for example, not in the way Clijsters would be if she retired.

    January 28, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Reply
  19. jerryb

    She was an amazing player and ladies' tennis will miss her elegance. How she was able to cope with the Williams' and others, given her stature, was miraculous.

    January 28, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Reply
  20. lee mateo

    Henin is simply the best. Enough said.

    January 28, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Reply
  21. Dries

    Alehandro, I am glad you take our comments so positive.

    I have a completely different view on the girls always smiling, saying they are playing tennis "for fun". I think it is an act: top tennis is hard work and it is very tough to get at the top.

    Although I am sure that a lot of them truely enjoy the good times: winning a final, beating someone who is far above in the ranking etc... their typical days are not fun: it is hard work.

    In that sense, Henin never took up an act: she made top tennis look like it reallly is: hard work and not a lot of play.

    I am not going to start a discussion on the Mauresmo/Serena thing but I would strongly suggest that the guys complaining about it really look into this. You might be surprised which player does not come out that well concerning sportmanship. I will not point my finger, so don't ask.

    January 28, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Reply
  22. laila

    I wish i could have seen Justine play live atleast once. Her game was so beautiful. I don't think anybody will be as good as her. Tennis is infact a game of brains..when played that way it is such a delight to watch. Somebody should be born again to have that one-handed backhand of hers. The game of tennis is lucky to have had her.

    January 28, 2011 at 9:05 pm | Reply
  23. Abdo

    Disappointing that's she's had to retire I enjoyed her great spirit.

    January 29, 2011 at 1:58 am | Reply
  24. ANNMARIE POOLE

    @ Larry, perhaps you should read your own confession.,,,"including Serena saw her interrupt the serve"....then perhaps you can ask why then, did Serena serve to a player she believed wasn't ready. And can you then say without doubt that had the serve been an ace, Serena would have without any provocation, volunteered to replay the point. Respect is a two way thing. When you can't even treat fellow players with any respect, once a match is concluded, ( which Serena has been guilty of time and time again) then you can't expect them to show you any, on court.

    You also elude to her image as being "cold and dour", and from your final remark i assume you don't think that of Kim. Maybe you should take a look at the photos of the loser alongside the winner from the 03 RG, 03 US and 04 Aust opens when Kim was the loser, and compare them to photos of where Justine was the GS loser, and tell me who is the cold and dour, one, and I would add sore loser. Maybe you should also read comments from people who have met both ladies in private, and say that Justine is the kind and friendly one, as I have done.

    Alehandro, do you question how all players "beef themselves up" as you put it. I can think of many players who have far more muscle definition than Justine ever has. But perhaps you should just watch some of her training videos, to get some understanding and appreciation for how she has strengthened her physique.

    With regard to the 04 Aust Open final. While we all know that Justine's desire to win Wimbledon would have been foremost in her mind last year, I also wonder if the prospect of backlash from people like yourself, is also a reason she continued to play when obviously in so much pain. Had she not done so, then maybe she now wouldn't be forced to retire not just from a match, but from the profession. By continuing to play as she did, she did further damage which sadly is now irreversible.

    Justine has never tried to project her image or herself as been perfect. In fact quite the contrary. However, If anyone by now, still doesn't understand her, then I would suggest that is they fault, not hers.

    January 30, 2011 at 7:52 am | Reply
  25. Jo(RSA)

    Henin was a great player and I will miss watching her play!

    January 30, 2011 at 11:11 pm | Reply
  26. Richard Arthur Middleton

    Annemarie,your last 2 paragraphs are spot on! Best player I,ve ever seen,Unequivically!

    January 31, 2011 at 11:09 am | Reply
  27. Gail Boone

    Silly to me that you would OBVIOUSLY omit the Williams sisters from this post and also to OBVIOUSLY refer to them at the boon or boom or BIG BABES – which they are! Stop trying to overlook OBVIOUS greatness! In so doing you OBVIOUSLY, point us directly to them!
    The awesome Williams sisters! Honorable mention!!!

    February 2, 2011 at 7:47 am | Reply
  28. Jos

    OBVIOUSLY you do not know what you're talking about Boone, at the end of the day, and so forth...

    February 2, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Reply
  29. marc

    I am Belgian myself and always had the greatest admiration for her tennis and fighting spirit. I will miss her terribly.
    @ Once 11 I want to say the following about her trainer: he is a native Argentinian, married with a Belgian woman and living in Belgium where he leads 2 tennis academies which were founded by Justine and wear her name. His name is Carlos Rodriguez.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Reply
  30. jo shum

    oh thank you so much for writing this short and sweet summary. apart from the elegance justine gave the world, i will terribly miss her emotions about tennis, how much she gave to tennis, and how much she loves playing. she is truly one of the kind. and she created such tensed emotions with the fans and audience around the world, showing her feistiness on court, her legendary fighting spirit, her dedication and her love.

    i too, feel terribly emotional hearing upon the announcement. only if, she didn't fall during wimledon last year, we would be enjoying so much, so much of her beauty lighting up the tennis world of WTA. a purist of all.

    February 8, 2011 at 4:36 am | Reply
  31. Nicole Monk

    Justine Henin is a good tennis player I've been following her play of, Thanks for posting this on blog.

    Nathan Mclain Tennis

    August 27, 2011 at 11:43 am | Reply
  32. Michael Ross

    Thank you for sharing this blog. Keep posting and keep sharing this.

    Nathan Mclain Tennis

    September 7, 2011 at 11:50 am | Reply
  33. Bali golf course

    Justine Henin is a good tennis player I've been following her play of, Thanks for posting this on blog......

    October 17, 2011 at 4:48 am | Reply

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