Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Sporting Legends: Justine Henin
'Sporting Legends' continues as we shift our focus to former women's tennis world numero uno, Justine Henin.
By Eugene YS Han
Calling Justine Henin the female ‘Roger Federer' could be sexist or even offensive to some. But when Roger Federer is also labeled the male ‘Justine Henin', it does not seem so bad after all.
And she is that good on the court.
Henin, or ‘Juju' as she's called by her legion of fans, is considered petite in the present world of women's tennis. Compared to the likes of the Williams sisters, Amelie Mauresmo and Maria Sharapova, Henin is literally overshadowed by this lot.
But in terms of achievements, Henin can more than hold her own.
The Belgian won 41 singles tournaments and seven grand slams - she won four French Open titles, two US Opens and one Australian. Wimbledon remains the only blot on her report card.
During her reign as world number one, her familiar shout of "Allez!" after hitting winners was common place and so was her usual celebration with a short fist pump.
As fate would have it, Henin was born during Roland Garros on 1 June 1982. The French Open would become a grand slam tournament she will grow to love and dominate both at junior and senior level.
She got her first professional break on the Women's Tennis Association tour in May 1999. She had gained a wild card entry in the Belgian Open at Antwerp and she went on to become only the fifth player to win her debut WTA Tour event.
It was in 2003 that Henin again made her mark in tennis history by being the first Belgian to win a Grand Slam title. She had overcome defending champion Serena Williams in the semi-final and beat her fellow-Belgian Kim Clijsters in the final. Clijsters went on to meet Henin again in two finals of the Grand Slams - and lost both of them.
Henin, who had started that year at number five, was ranked No. 1 at the end of it. She was to hold the number one title for more than a hundred weeks.
Tennis fans will remember her for her perfect strokes on the courts - especially her powerful one-handed backhand. Once unleashed from her racket the ball will home in on its target like a cruise missile. Her backhand is said to be a rare technique that is not even commonly seen in the men's game.
She has earned nearly US$20 million in prize money. When she eliminated Serena, then Venus, at the 2007 U.S. Open, Henin became the first woman to beat both sisters en route to a major title.
Besides winning WTA titles, the Belgian also won a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics for her country. It was an achievement which she was immensely proud of.
Henin called it a day on 14 May 2008 at the grand young age of 25 shocking the tennis world all over. In doing so, she became the first woman to retire while ranked No. 1 by the WTA.
"I realized that I was at the end of the road," Henin said during a news conference at her tennis academy outside Brussels. "I lived through it all, I had given it all."
In recognition of her achievements, Henin received triple honors on Sunday night at Ostend, Northern Belgium in her nation's most prestigious sporting occasion - Sports Gala.
The tennis champion was given a lifetime career achievement award with special video messages from American tennis legend Pete Sampras and her male childhood tennis idol - Stefan Edberg.
Perhaps the Roland Garros organisers can consider naming one of their courts after Justine Henin. To help celebrate and remember a true champion.
It will remind the present generation of how Henin captured their hearts with her tennis. It will also help to educate future generations why this tennis great should be remembered.