A business trip has gotten the better of me this week, so I apologize for being late on the topic of Justine Henin’s sudden retirement, but it really is the big tennis news of the week. And I was really stunned to learn of it.
If you had told me Henin would retire in two, maybe three years time I would have believed you. But to have retired as the world No. 1, on the eve of your French Open defense and at the age of just 25 was a major shock.
Tennis is such a tough sport both physically and emotionally, and given what Henin’s been up against with her divorce, physical issues, family issues, on court controversies, etc., in the past you knew the clock was ticking on such an announcement.
But I respect it. I guess she did what she feels was the right move. And I haven’t been a big follower of women’s tennis but it will be sad to see her go. She’s been the best player hands down the last few years – yeah, you could make a case that’s Serena’s better when healthy, but I won’t debate that here – and I actually found her style of play to be far more appealing than that of Maria Sharapova’s or the many other WTA fembots who just rip forehands and backhands. Henin played some heady, thoughtful tennis.
And had she continued, there’s no doubt Justine would have added to her seven career Slam titles count which probably would have included the French Open where she has won the last three years, five times overall. So it will be a shame not to see her defend her French crown.
Henin of course follows countrywoman Kim Clijsters as early retired Belgians, but I do think that Henin, and Clijsters as well, will return to pro tennis someday. My hunch is that we haven’t seen the last of Justine at a pro tournament.
Justine will take a year or two off maybe longer to get her life together, settle down, see what’s out there and then she’ll get the itch again to play. And even in a few years time at age 27, 28, if she keeps herself in reasonable shape I could still see her returning and being a factor again at Grand Slams down the road.
Of course she says she won’t go back on her decision now, but body- and mind-willing she’ll be back. They always come back! Unless your body will not allow or unless you are simply too old, you’ll likely come back. That desire, that will to win and compete doesn’t just evaporate for pro athletes. It will keep tugging at you and more than likely you’ll want to give it another shot. And we’ve seen it countless times in other sports and tennis is no exception. Lindsay Davenport, Martina Hingis, Martina Navratilova have all had comebacks, and the list goes on and on. And I hope she does comeback one day.
Then again, there are several people who hope the exact opposite of that, that she doesn’t comeback. That she never goes near a tennis court ever again unless it’s to hand out hardware to them. Those people being Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and just about ever other player on the WTA who should have all cracked open the champagne bottles and partied all night in celebration upon hearing the news of Justine’s retirement. Even the WTA execs should be doing dances and giving themselves raises. The absence of Justine will mean more titles and more face time for glamour girls Maria, Serena, Venus, Ana and Jelena, and that should ultimately translate into more sponsor dollars for the WTA.
Okay, back to current tennis action…
After a rocky week in Rome looks like things have returned back to form on the slower Hamburg courts. I haven’t really watched much of it, but it looks like the three-headed monster that is Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic is firing on all cylinders with neither guy really having been tested, though they haven’t really faced anyone of any clay significance, and that seemingly will continue for ahead for Fed.
After today the Swiss’s path takes him to Fernando Verdasco and then either to Nicolas Kiefer or Andreas Seppi in the semifinal. Kiefer’s somewhat of an enigma, but on clay Federer should take care of him. And the underachieving Verdasco might be able to push a tiebreak, maybe even get a set, but at the end of the day he’ll fold if he gets in any kid of winning position against Fed.
The bottom half should provide the fireworks as Nadal and Djokovic are just a win away from a colossal and important semifinal showdown for the No. 2 ranking and with it the No. 2 seeding at the French Open. And with Nadal playing Moya and Djokovic facing Montanes you have to like such a meeting coming to pass and I can’t wait. In the end I still tip Nadal to beat Fed here and resume his regularly scheduled clay dominance right through Roland Garros.
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