As part of the French Open euphoria, we are doing a “Legends of Roland Garros” series and we start with Justine Henin.
Justine Henin, without a doubt, falls in the “brightest stars burn out the quickest” category when it comes to tennis players.
A real pocket-rocket at just 5’6″, the Belgian had a brilliant all-round game that even included a sumptuous single-handed backhand – a real rarity on the WTA Tour.
The brilliance of her backhand though, a stroke full of pace, power, precision and just any combination of any kind of spin at any given moment, often detracted from her fierce forehand, which was probably equally as impressive yet less of a rarity.
She decided to retire in her late-20s while she was still world number one before, citing the evergreen Roger Federer as her inspiration, made a brief return to tennis.
However, she never reclaimed her former glories. When those glories are seven Grand Slam titles, though, who really cares about that? She absolutely left her mark.
Roland Garros Record
The French Open was her first Grand Slam title in 2003, beating fellow-Belgian Kim Clijsters in the final.
She followed that up with three successive French Open crowns in 2005, 2006, and 2007 before declining the opportunity to defend it a year later.
For all of her success in Roland Garros finals, perhaps her most memorable French Open moment was in a semi-final.
It was certainly the most notorious. Indeed, mention “The Hand Match” and tennis fans will immediately know the moment to which you’re referring.
4-2, 30-0 down in the deciding set to a then apparently invincible Serena Williams in 2003 and, searching for her first real breakthrough, controversy ensued.
At 15-0, Serena insisted Henin’s shot was long. The umpire agreed. The crowd booed at Williams’ protest. Williams prepared to serve again but Henin raised her hand to delay her until the boos had died down.
The problem is, she didn’t admit it to the umpire, who forced Serena into a second service. The American lost the point – and the match. Henin went on to win her first Grand Slam title.
“I was a little disappointed with her,” Williams said. “I think to start lying and fabricating, it’s not fair.”
“It’s not the best memory,” agreed Henin.
“Along with Martina (Hingis), she has probably the best racket skills of any female player I’ve seen,” – Andy Roddick.
“[Henin has] the best single-handed backhand in the women’s or men’s game.” – John McEnroe.
“I don’t know why we’re not talking about Justine Henin all the time because, for her size, she’s the greatest athlete we’ve ever seen. I don’t know why she’s not more appreciated – she’s not cutesie-wootsie – but the way she has evolved as a tennis player is unbelievable.” – Billie Jean King
“That’s what I love in tennis — the competition and the tension. It helps me to be 100 percent.” – Justine Henin
“A lot of people say I’m not very friendly, that I’m cold. But I’m just the opposite. I live a very simple life. I’m a normal person, very sensitive, very caring.” – Justine Henin
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