Justine Henin Interview - French Open, May 25

Posted on May 25, 2010

Justine Henin Interview
French Open
Tuesday, May 25, 2010

J. HENIN/T. Pironkova 6-4, 6-3

Q. You looked very happy at the end of your match. It must be great to be back at the place you've had success in the past.
JUSTINE HENIN: Yeah, I was feeling very happy just to be back on center court, and it's something that I never expected in the past anymore.
It was the case again today. I really, this morning, when I woke up and before walking on the court, I didn't know really what to expect and how I was going to deal with my emotions. At that time I felt like, well, I've never played on this court, you know. I've played so many times on that court.
But as soon as I walked in and I was into my match, I felt a lot of things were coming back. It was just fantastic to share this again with the crowd as they gave me one more time great support. So it was very good to be back. It was an honor for me to be scheduled on the center court. It was very nice from the organization, also.

Q. When you first walked in, there were not many fans in the stands, but by the end they gave you a very nice standing ovation. Tell me about when you first walked in, your first reaction being back on that court.
JUSTINE HENIN: Yeah, it was something strong. I mean, just because, like, I say it was something I never thought I would be back here, you know. When I was here two years ago and last year, it was just as a spectator. I never thought, well, I'll be on this court again.
Last few days I worked pretty good. I was feeling nervous about how I was going to come into this tournament and with a lot of motivation, of course, but I also was very nervous, which was normal. It's my tournament, and I didn't know really how I was going to deal with my emotions.
It was a very nice moment, and at the end it was, after my victory, much better again.

Q. A few days ago you were asked by the French media about some changes that had taken place just before the Open. I didn't quite understand what those changes were. What are they?
JUSTINE HENIN: A few members of my team, just my physio and my physical trainer, so, you know, these kind of changes that kind of happen in a career because you need something different. So that wasn't for me a big deal right before the French, because all the preparation has been done.
I know what I have to be focused on. I wasn't I mean, I was still in balance in the last few days.

Q. Talking about the match, you seemed to be struggling with your serve a few times. When you were under pressure you really came through quite strongly.
JUSTINE HENIN: Yeah, I didn't serve really good in that match, that's for sure. I returned pretty good. She was serving quite strong and pretty fast. In the first set, you know, I've been I took control of the match as I could break at 3 All.
In the second set I was up and probably at that time I was feeling relaxed to be up 2 Love, and then I was down 3 2. And after that, I just tried to be more aggressive and just tried to come more to the net.
She has a very strange game because she hits so hard on the ball. Sometimes it's very slow, so you have to deal with it. But first round is never easy. So I'm just happy I came through like this.

Q. Your opponent today said she thinks you might be playing better than you did when she had played you in the past. How would you compare yourself as a player, and also as a person today versus before you left the tour?
JUSTINE HENIN: Well, I would say as a player I've worked pretty hard in the last few months, but the way is still very long. I'm probably less consistent now than I was at the end of my career in terms of keeping the intensity all the time.
That's what I'm working on at the moment. That's not easy. It's only five months since I come back. It doesn't come back like this, so I have to be in this kind of situation.
It's only my second Grand Slam, and even with all the experience I got in the past, just, you know, to keep the intensity and the concentration, to be as consistent as I was. Also, I have been off this world for two years, and it's an advantage at certain points, but it doesn't help the concentration and the intensity all the time. I have to work on this, but I grew up in many, you know, parts of my game. That's for sure.
As a person, I wouldn't say I've changed, but I realized and I understood a lot of things on myself, and it's very rich to come back with all the things I know that I didn't know two years ago or three years ago. And just to be away from the courts, yeah, helped me trust myself without my tennis racquet, which is something important, as I live 20 years of my life only for that.
I'm feeling happy about the decision I took to come back, but I have to fight. That is for sure.

Q. Maybe what is most interesting to fans is how players develop over the years as persons. With these two years off, you had some show business; you had transformative moments in the Congo. What did you learn the most in these years off?
JUSTINE HENIN: Well, a lot of things. Just to come off this bubble, you know, because what is the real world? But, I mean, I have been into this world for my whole life, and I've been giving everything for this, and you just try you just start to think that you live only by this, you know. I just learned I was someone else away from the courts. That was really important, just to face the world and the reality. And, of course, my traveling with UNICEF has been something very strong, and that brought me a lot of things.
I probably started to accept myself just the way I am also, you know, away from the courts, and that was really important as I am more tolerant probably now than I was in the past. Yeah, it was very interesting.
To come back like this, it's very exciting. I feel I really grew up on this. But as a player because I want to be, you know, in the top again. I know I still have to work hard and the way is still very long. Even if you've been No. 1, when you want to be back in on the top, you have to work hard and be professional and be engaged all the time, and that's what I'm trying to do now.

Q. Does the time off make you better as a player? If so, how?
JUSTINE HENIN: I don't know if it makes me a better player. I just feel happier. That's probably the most important thing. I hope these things are going to help me be better in the future.
But it's still very early to give a conclusion. I have the feeling 2010 is still a year of transition, and it really is.
I mean, I have been away from the courts for two years, and I have to come back into the circuit, and it's a lot of sacrifices. It's a lot of things. You have to be back into it 200%. But it takes time. You cannot be two months and three months into it like in the past, so I use I take this year as a year of transition, and I take everything as bonus. I think next year is probably more realistic to probably think I can be in my best level in a few months.

Q. You're back now, and a lot of the players who were at the top when you were last playing, Serena and Venus, Kim, of course, why do you think your game has had such staying power and you haven't really seen a lot of new players coming through at the top?
JUSTINE HENIN: Well, it's been that generation is very strong: Kim, Serena, Venus, you know, still Kuznetsova, Dementieva after that. It's still the they have the experience. We have probably the experience, and there is a new generation that is coming up, but I will have to take the time also like we needed in the past.
A lot of them are still very young and have a lot of things to learn. Doesn't mean they cannot win Grand Slams or cannot have great results in Grand Slam.
But it's true that not a lot of things have changed. You know, before I stopped and now, it's almost the same players, it's almost the same congruence, and a few very good young players pretty strong also. But it's good. I like when a draw is open like it is here and in the Grand Slam at the moment, and there is a lot of congruence. I like it for the game.
THE MODERATOR: Questions in French.

Q. Were you a bit disappointed you were scheduled at 11:00 in the morning on the central court?
JUSTINE HENIN: No, not at all. I was quite happy about it, actually. I was very happy I was scheduled on the central court, because it's an honor. I opened the day today.
And, no, it suited me quite well, because it was my first match. I was quite nervous. 11:00 you can plan for everything. At 3:00, 4:00, well, I wouldn't have had a choice, would I? I would have played. But that was a perfect scheduling for me.

Q. Even if there was not that many people watching you?
JUSTINE HENIN: Well, I had a lot of support, and then people came little by little. And I didn't want to think about it. I was really focusing on me, myself. And at the end of the match, I really enjoyed the standing ovation from the crowd.
It was extraordinary. It was a beautiful moment for me.

Q. So what did you feel when you walked on the court?
JUSTINE HENIN: I have not had the opportunity to practice on the central court before this morning, so I came in at 9:45, because it was important. Even if I know this court, I've lived beautiful things, but I walked on this court and it was unknown to me. That was three years ago. Many things happen in three years. I had this feeling.
Then when I started playing, many things came back to my memory, and I had this beautiful feeling of happiness, of being here again. I thought I would never experience that again in my life.
That's probably the tennis court on which I had the most beautiful emotions in my life, so it has a special place in my heart, and that will never change. That's why it was emotional today.

Q. You're very intense. Why? Is it since you were a child?
JUSTINE HENIN: Well, I was always like that. At times I thought it's because of what I experienced in my life, but then I watched some videos of me when I was four, five, six, and I was already like that.
I'm not a loner, but there are times when I really need to be really focused on myself, and I did that when I was a child, so I guess it's part of me.
I was very fortunate. I grew up with two elder brothers who really helped me. They practiced sports with me. I grew up with boys. That gave me this, you know, winning and fighting spirit. I've always been intense in everything I do in my profession, in my relationships. I want things to be powerful, to be strong, to have a meaning.
But that's the image you get from me, that I'm strong on the court, that I'm in my bubble. But I need to speak all the time. So I'm totally different when I'm relaxed, when I'm outside the bubble. People around me just laugh, because I never stop talking. I keep talking, like with you, well, when I feel like it. I really need to share all the time.
I'm not a loner, but when I'm playing tennis, I really need to be in that bubble, and that's how I can do my job the best I can.

Q. Some of your opponents would shout on the court. Is it something you try and forget, or can it give you information with regards to the mindset or the level of fatigue of your opponent? Or the mindset, rather.
JUSTINE HENIN: I think, you know, when you think about your own objectives, when you have a constructive mindset, you can forget about this. But when they shout louder and louder, maybe it's a sign of nervousness with the opponent, but then the speed of the game has nothing to do with the intensity of the shouts, so you don't want to be impressed by that. You want to, you know, stick to reality and analyze the hitting strength, the speed of the ball. You want to be able not to take this into account, but it's not easy.

Q. If you were to give the odds for you, what would you say?
JUSTINE HENIN: Well, I never do that. If I was to give a mark well, it's first round, so I managed it quite well, but I know that I will improve little by little, and I'll have another opportunity to be in the tournament. I mean, it was very hard, and these are not easy conditions for anyone.
But I like these weather conditions, and I'm happy the first round is over. I'll continue working. I need to reassure myself with regards to my shape. But I've done it already, and I think it's good.

Q. Kim came around. Did she say hello?
JUSTINE HENIN: Well, yes. She said a few words. But it was just after my match, so we didn't have time. But I hope we'll have time to talk afterwards.

Q. What about your opponents for the second round? Is it going to be easier to manage than this match?
JUSTINE HENIN: I don't know if they've played already. Srebotnik, I don't well, I knew Srebotnik, but she lost. Who is the other one? Zakopalova. Well, I don't know her. It's not an easy name.
Well, anyway well, there you go. I can't say anything. Zakopalova, okay. I still don't have any information, because I never played the girl, so I can't say much. All I know is I need to continue working, and I will get information from my faithful coach.

Q. We were talking about players who shout, and you were talking about young players and you were talking about Aravane Rezai. Do you think she has opportunities in this tournament?
JUSTINE HENIN: Well, anything can happen. She must have built up confidence since Madrid, but winning a Grand Slam, I mean, a Grand Slam is very long. It's very hard. So it's difficult to say.
She has potential. She hits very hard on the ball, and she can destabilize the opponent, obviously, otherwise she would have never won Madrid.
So she has potential and qualities. Now, winning a Grand Slam, that's possible, but a Grand Slam is very difficult. You have to be consistent from one end to the other. But she has potential.

Q. I said you were intense. Would your fans say that they also are more intense because you're intense also?
JUSTINE HENIN: Well, I think my fans suffer a lot, because I've never been I mean, nothing is simple. This will not change. I've always been adaptive in long match situations that change all of a sudden. That's what I like in tennis.
You can't take anything for granted. But if you were to tell me I was different, I mean, I would not like it. So I think I'll continue like that.