Fatigued Justine Henin bids farewell to tennis
May 14, 2008, 16:36 GMT
World Tennis number one player Belgian Justine Henin and her longtime coach Carlos Rodriguez (R) at the end of her news conference where she announced her retirement with immediate effect at Limelette in Brussels, Belgium on 14 May 2008. EPA/OLIVIER HOSLET
Hamburg - The signs were there in the past days but Justine Henin's retirement on Wednesday still marks a surprise and blow for women's tennis in general and the game in Belgium in particular.
Named the women's version of men's star Roger Federer by the likes of John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova, Henin quit the game as the world number one which could be unprecedented in the game.
Retirement came just just one year after compatriot Kim Clijsters decided to hang up the racket because she felt worn out after many years on the tour despite a young age of 23 at the time.
Henin is only marginally older at 25, but the sport has also taken a toll on her. Like Clijsters, she was plagued by injuries, and like the rival she also believed there was more to life than to chase a tennis ball day in and day out.
Henin was the more successful of the two, winning 41 career career titles including seven Grand Slam titles, Olympic gold 2004 and three straight season-ending championship crowns.
The Slams include four French Open trophies, a tournament that was always special for Henin.
It was her late mother Francoise who frequently took her to Roland Garros and Henin reportedly told her after watching the 1992 final between Steffi Graf and Monica Seles that 'one day I will play here and win.'
Her mother died when Justine was 12 and could not witness her career. Henin was one of very few players who won on her first WTA showing, in Antwerp 1999. The first French Open title came 2003.
The family became estranged when Henin married Belgian tennis teacher Pierre-Yves Hardenne in 2002. The two then separated in 2007 and that not only eventually reunited her with the family but also seemed to further strengthen her dominance.
Henin won a career-best nine titles in 2007 and went undefeated in the second half of the year.
The opposition wondered how to stop Henin, who despite her small size could serve huge and play aggressive. Her main weapon was a strong one-fisted backhand.
'You see her play and you are not impressed. She doesn't have any huge shots. But she doesn't let you play. She is so strong mentally and physically. You feel under stress all the time,' said French player Tatiana Golovin.
Henin said she was now 'smarter on my calendar' by playing less matches, but she was unable to continue her success this year.
She won just two titles early in the year (Sydney and Antwerp) and spoke about retirement without giving a date only last week after losing to Russia's Dinara Safina in Berlin, saying she wanted to travel and possibly study.
'I'm young in life, but starting to get old on the tour. I'm growing up and I need different things. Now I've been playing tennis for 20 years and it's been my whole life but as a woman, as you get older, you need to think about the future,' she said.© Deutsche Presse-Agentur