It’s Official, Henin’s Back in Tennis
by Sean Randall | September 22nd, 2009, 2:18 pm
  • 41 Comments

More often than not in tennis, rumors turn into truth, and here we have another example. A month ago reports surfaced that former No. 1 Justine Henin, who had abruptly retired in May 2008, was planning a return to tennis. Now, hardly a week after her countrywoman Kim Clijsters stamped her comeback with a US Open title, Henin’s announced that she’s officially back in the ring starting in 2010.

“I was very impatient and I am really happy and deeply moved to be able to announce this evening that I will return to competition very quickly,” Henin said to Belgian RTL-TVI. “It is surprising because on May 14, 2008, I called an end to my career. And then I’ve been down a long personal road. And then the flame has been rekindled, I thought it had been extinguished.”

About the only this surprising is that Henin didn’t make this announcement right after Clijsters had won match point a week ago last Sunday! So I have to give Henin some credit for allowing Kim to get her fair and perhaps final due in the limelight the last week.

If Henin does all the right things and gets herself back into full playing condition there’s no reason she won’t be No. 1 at this time next year. As I’ve said before the WTA is in complete disarray, a “circus” as SI’s SL Price calls the tour. While the level of drama may be peaking, the actual quality play on the women’s circuit was arguably the poorest I’ve ever seen it during the US Open.

At 27 she’s definitely at the end of her playing window, but with seven Slams in her pocket and three year-end No. 1 finishes, her experience will make the difference.

And I think just as Clijsters has done, Henin will follow suit and clean up upon her return. And for me that means at least two Slams next year – The French Open and Wimbledon – and if she stays healthy, plays all four majors plus some lower level events she’ll finish No. 1.

Henin is/was better than Clijsters and she can handle Williams, Serena and Venus, who will likely cut back further on their circuit schedule. The Russians might get her outside of the Slams but in the Slams they proven to have little belief to get the job done. The big wildcard remains Sharapova. If Maria rights her serve she’ll rocket to the top, but without it she’ll continue to struggle.

And if Henin does return to full or near full strength for a couple years, what then of the current players? My guess is Clijsters was lucky to have the US Open because it’s likely her last Slam pre-Henin. Hell, she might just re-retire! The Williams sisters will continue to own Wimbledon while the Australian Open is I think is wide open.

Henin’s return also strikes a blow to the Serbs, Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic, who can kiss hopes goodbye for any future Slam titles and the much-scrutinized Dinara Safina is going to have a wait a few more years for that elusive first major win. I don’t think the Russian can beat Henin but perhaps with the two Belgians coming back the spotlight will, for her sake, thankfully shift away from Dinara.

Now if you are worried that Henin’s return will end the drama, don’t be. The drama’s not leaving, as long as Justine sticks her to her gameplan of holding up her hand before returning serves, coming down with mysterious stomach ailments during Slam finals, calling out her foes and chasing after ballboys. And that’s just for starters. So I understand you concern but they’ll be plenty of drama to go around.

And one also has to speculate just who else will return? Lindsay Davenport? Martina Hingis? Anastasia Myskina? There’s good money to be had on the WTA tour, money these girls cannot make off the court (quarterfinals at the US Open was $175K). And if the current crop of top players (including Henin and Clijsters) aren’t going to play a full 2010 schedule why not comeback, play a few events, pick up the scraps, get paid and see what happens?

As we watched over and over again at the US Open, women’s tennis is so weak right now that any player with any kind of mental strength is going to carve through the field. For someone like Henin, that should make for easy pickings.


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41 Comments for It’s Official, Henin’s Back in Tennis

GOAT Girl Says:

This is great news. I’ve missed Justine and rejoice that I’ll be able to enjoy watching, once more, her finesse, grace and inimitable style court. Now, if we could just get Mauresmo back into top form, life would be unbelievably sweet for this tennis fan.


GOAT Girl Says:

“on” court


Eric Says:

Can we please ramp down some of the hysteria and over-hyping? While I agree with most of what you wrote I still think you’re overselling Henin and underestimating others on tour. Clijsters will re-retire because of Henin? The Sisters will cut back on their schedule? Henin will win the Aussie Open and be #1 by next Sept,? Me thinks you’re setting the bar WAAAY to high for her. Let’s wait and see how this all plays out because I suspect that things will occur differently from your forecast!


Cochran Says:

This is great news. No doubt. Sean’s right, Henin will not return to show her face but to prouve to everyone she’s still on top. And I hope she’ll make a huge come back and finally win wimbledon title.


Kimmi Says:

Great news, I have always loved Justine, and now that she is making a comeback, I will love her even more… Will be amazing if she can do a “clijsters”..only one question not answered though..what tourney will she make her debut ?


Kimmi Says:

To answer my own question..2010 AO..I hope she plays some warm up tourney before that…


fadingis Says:

tennis gods are happy:)


Bojan Says:

Your assumptions are ridiculous. Yes, she can be no.1 again, but who can grant you she’ll do it. Who can grant that her return will be the same as Clijsters’. I mean, Kim practiced for a long long time before coming back on the court and Henin is supposed to do it after 3 and a half month. I think you’re jumping too high. She was great, but there’s no way she’s going to play that good again anytime soon. I think any girl will have a chance to take her down when she comes back.


soogar Says:

Bojan,

You assume she hasn’t picked up a racquet in those months and that is simply not true- she was running a tennis school afterall. And with three months of training she’ll be ready to go and she will be very competitive. There is a little thing called muscle memory and she has loads of it.

Welcome back, Justine!!


grendel Says:

“I mean, Kim practiced for a long long time before coming back on the court and Henin is supposed to do it after 3 and a half month.”

Kim was invited to partner Tim Henman to play against Steffi Graff and Agassi at the ceremony for the opening (or possibly closing) of the roof at Wimbledon. This was in May, I think.

It was Kim’s enjoyment of this event, apparently, which decided her on her comeback.

So everything was very quick.


Kimmi Says:

Kim did something that not a lot of “comeback” players would do..win a GS after playing only 2 warm up tournaments, I don’t know what she was “smoking” :), but to be able to play at a very high level with so much confidence is unreal.

Players always say “they can practice all they want but the confidence is built when playing real matches”

It will be another shock if Justine can do a “clijsters” but realistically, It might take her a while to bring that confidence back…

I think Kim has become more mentally stronger than she ever been, so much often she has given away big leads in big matches… the family life must have done her good. :)


grendel Says:

“I think Kim has become more mentally stronger than she ever been”

Physically stronger, too, if Annabelle Croft is to be believed. Croft has kept banging on about how when a woman has a baby, it actually strengthens her body. She always looked a bit embarrassed saying this, since it is probably counter-intuitive, to most men anyway.Presumably it is only true if it is just one baby.


sensationalsafin Says:

Who else can possibly win the French Open besides Henin? That could be the only tournament she played all year and she’d still win it.


Bojan Says:

@grendel: Yeah, but she said she started with practice in February.


ShayHay Says:

Oh goodness this makes me want to throw up. If there was one player on the WTA tour whom I could seriously do without, it’s this woman. Guess I’ll have to ease up on Sharapova now. Let the games begin.


Maya Says:

Impressive game but everything else not so impressive. Those in the locker room will not be so welcoming as opposed to how Clijsters was treated. Henin will never live down her poor sportsmanship to Serena and Mauresmo.


Andrew Miller Says:

I am sure Henin will get wins, but I think she may be underestimating the competition. After all: it took Henin years to be a well-maintained machine, much like Navratilova or Lendl. Kim Clijsters’ win was no fluke – bad call or not, it is still extremely hard to beat the Williams sisters back to back (as well as Bartoli and Wozniacki). That’s a tough draw, and Clijsters got better every match, playing her best against Serena Williams. And who knows, maybe Clijsters has been practicing a lot – her serve looked much improved at the Open (maybe I’m not right, but she certainly played much more viciously than in the past – she played “bigger” than I remember).

That said, Justine Henin is like Mr. Randall said, quite a mistress of gamesladyship, so I think Mr. Randall is right that that alone will win some matches.

Anyhows – this could be a blip – maybe Henin will inspire others who didnt know what an opportunity they had when Clijsters and Henin were out of the game. And, truly – the next great players for the WTA – the successors to the Williams, Clijsters, Henin, Sharapova, Kuznetsova etc., have not emerged. We as fans have no idea who they are or how they play – but they will emerge pretty soon.

So I kind of think, outside of the Williams sisters (who do have big goals), tennis will be changing very rapidly (think of the years 2000-2003 in men’s tennis – Federer just snuck up on everyone and began dominance in earnest at the end of 2003 and beginning ot 2004). I think this era is comparable to that one, or even to 1990 – when there were 8 separate winners on the men’s and woman’s side (WTA: Graf, Seles, Navratilova, Sabatini; ATP: Lendl, Gomez, Edberg, Sampras). It took a little while for the hierarchy to emerge/re-emerge.

All of that said: who knows. Maybe Ivanovic will polish up her game again and decide to get some slams. Maybe Kuznetsova will win a few more. It’s hard to say. I dont think it’s a bad thing to put some fierce competitors back into the mix.


toodle pip Says:

Kim did something that not a lot of “comeback” players would do I don’t know what she was “smoking” :),

Her loser husband was “retired” from his basketball team the Antwerp Giants. He’s the “wife” right now. I’d say money was a big fat motivator for the Lynch family. Justine Henin has always had Clijsters’ number. Too bad for Kim.


Thangs Says:

Welcome back Juju! She will definitely hit double digit in slam counts.. 2FO, 1 Wimby atleast..Allez!


sensationalsafin Says:

“WTA: Graf, Seles, Navratilova, Sabatini; ATP: Lendl, Gomez, Edberg, Sampras”

Except for Gomez, those are some pretty great players, so it’s not like random players were winning slams.

I’ve said this before, it seemed like both the women’s and men’s games were heading in the same direction until Federer intervened and the men’s game took a sharp turn into the great direction. At the end of last year, there was an article on tennis.com asking which generation was the best and that 2008′s top 10 could end up one of the best if not the best generations of all time. They did this by counting slams and 08 wasn’t high on the list, so why even consider it? Because Nadal and Federer are at the top and who ever is under their names can’t be all too bad.

The thing is, right now, people want to see more variety in the men’s side and I think it’d be great to see it because this generation could very well hold some great champions (Del Potro has only begun, Murray has yet to begin, Djokovic is trying to get back in it, Roddick is…, and of course there’s Federer and Nadal with 21 combined slams, yikes!!). Whereas on the women’s side, it seems like all the fans are begging for someone to step up and dominate. And it’s mainly because the top players are so bad. 2000-2003 atleast had some great players at the top on the men’s side. Safin, Kuerten, Hewitt, Agassi, Ferrero, Roddick, Federer, and even Sampras. These guys atleast produced quality matches. Today’s women can’t even identify a quality match. Number 1 ranking or not, can anyone count how many times Safina has called herself stupid or said that she just forgot how to hit the ball or play tennis or whatever in an interview after a loss OR win? And what about Serena who always says she lost because she played like crap, as unsportsmanlike as that is, 99% of the time it’s true, which means the whole match was probably crap because she most likely hit 75 errors in a 4-6 3-6 loss.

All in all, I’ve always like Henin’s game and I’m glad she’s back. I think she’s the favorite at the French and a contender everywhere else. I still like Clisjters’ personality more, so I’ll be rooting for her a lot next year.


funches Says:

I’m always surprised by the lack of respect almost all tennis commentators have for Clijsters’ ability. If she had a better head on her shoulders, she would have been better than Henin on hard courts for sure and possibly on grass. She does not have Henin’s variety, but she moves better than Henin and hits harder than Henin from both sides. Henin’s mental strength was what gave her the decided edge over Clijsters in their first incarnations.

I picked Clijsters to win the U.S. Open when Sean was writing inane garbage about the tour being a disgrace if Safina lost to her even though Clijsters is better than Safina in every department. Now, after you looked so idiotic when Clijsters cruised to the U.S. Open title, you’re compounding the error by saying Henin will win two slams next year.

Clijsters has an incredible simple game – see ball, run really fast to ball, hit ball really hard.

Henin has an incredibly complex game. She has to serve well, figure out when to come to the net at the right times and mix up her strategy during points. I have no doubt she can win Roland Garros again if she’s fit, but since she never really came close to winning Wimbledon the first time around, I can’t imagine how she’ll win it next year.


Giner Says:

I like watching Henin but this is dumb. Players who retire and come back a year or two later are taking away the meaning behind retirement (and that includes Santoro). It wouldn’t surprise me if Safin plays ‘one more year’ in 2010.

I’m not going to believe anyone again when they say they’re retiring, if they are under 30.

Henin’s reasons for returning I presume are because Kim showed how easy it is to win a Slam against the current girls. But that’s an odd reason to come back. If easy slams is what she wanted, she shouldn’t have retired in the first place. She was head and shoulders above the rest of the field before she retired, so if it was easy slams she wanted she wouldn’t retire and then come back now. She would have kept playing.

No, her reasons for retiring were deeper than that, so I’m not sure what her reasons for returning are. Maybe she sorted out her problems now?

Anyway, welcome back Justine.


thetennisguy Says:

For one I’m damn glad she’s back! I want to see her win Wimbledon at last and complete her career slam. Who knows what’s going on in her head or why she retired in the first place. Probably just burned out; wouldn’t be the first time; won’t be the last time you see this. Her game is so beautiful I can’t wait!


GOAT Girl Says:

Maybe she’s glad that Larry Scott is no longer heading the WTA? IMHO the throat-slitting gesture by Yuri Sharpov, combined with the lack of disciplinary action for that incident from the WTA, may have soured her. With his departure, maybe she feels more comfortable returning to the tour. Who knows? I just know that I’m thrilled at the prospect of seeing her play again.


Coach Bennett Says:

What a great surprise. There was just NOBODY
like Justine Henin.

She was always a step above the rest. I can
hardly wait to see that patented backhand she
has.

Welcome back Justine, I have long been a fan.

I have been a college coach and used you as
an example many times. Can’t wait, wish I could
see your first match back.

Coach Bennett, Lyon College, Batesville, Ar. 72501


Sean Randall Says:

Eric, am I really “underestimating” everyone else on tour? Did you not watch the US Open? The women’s side was failure.

No I don’t think Henin will win the Australian but I do think she’ll return to No. 1. And yes, my guess is Serena’s not going to play as many tournaments in 2010 as she did this year. Especially not after her last match!

Bojan, true, just about anyone could/can take Justine down when she comes back, but will they mentally be able to do it. The Russians have shown they cannot. The Serbs are done and the sisters may be busy with their outside interests to bother.

As for Henin returning to winner’s circle, if Clijsters can do it why can’t Henin? A couple months should be enough time to return to playing level and it seems like Henin will have much more than that.

Sensationalsafin, I wonder in the betting circles who the women’s favorite to win the 2010 French Open is. Henin? She’s my pick right now.

To agree, there is a huge void at the top of women’s tennis – hence why you’ve seen the return of the Belgians – and since Justine left no one is stepping up to fill it. The Russians can’t handle the pressure, Serena/Venus just don’t play enough, the Serbs seemed burnt out and the new faces like Wozniacki and Azarenka probably are not ready to win a major yet.

What’s great is the void will be filled and filled soon, just by who? There are four majors next year we’ll have champions at each of them, that’s the only sure thing.

Giner, get used to it. Wait till Serena retires, un-retires. I’m sure the Serbs, Russians will also do the same! Probably ever Federer! When he retires in a few years he’ll unretire and comeback. They all comeback!

Funches, glad to see someone noticed my “inane garbage”. I’m honored.


Andrew Miller Says:

Those “arent ready to win a major” category is growing larger every year! Seriously, if Azarenka and others cant get it together soon (as in PRONTO), they arent going to have slams. They will just be interesting players to watch, a la Patty Snyder (brilliant game, mediocre results when compared to the champs).


Andrew Miller Says:

Come to think of it: maybe Sampras and Agassi should have retired sooner. (Food for thought). Wouldnt that have forced the players behind Roddick (Fish, Blake etc) to get better, sooner?


Andrew Miller Says:

For that reason alone, someone should think highly of Isner. The guy is not afraid to “beat” the elders on the court (as in Roddick). I would like to see Roddick win a big one again – but if Isner wants the same thing, that is better for tennis. The worst thing to see out there is poor competition. You want two people to play who want to win the match.

I think that’s what Mr. Randall is pointing out in the WTA: in a lot of matches, there arent two people who want to win the match. Just one, a lot of the time, until the later rounds.


jane Says:

I’d be happy to see Justine win Wimbledon and Sharapova win the French actually; then they’d both have career slams. The former is probably more likely than the latter, though. Sharapova’s game doesn’t suit clay, but she can grind out wins, and she’s gotten as deep at the semis there, so it’s not absolutely impossible. I’d like to see Wozniacki win her first slam next year. Her breakthrough at the USO was an intriguing one. She’s got a different game than many of the current WTA players, and Kim didn’t win easily over her, so I think Caroline can make some noise next year. And then there is Oudin too. And Azarenka or Lisicki both could do something on faster surfaces.

The WTA is not in too bad of shape for 2010 at all. Combining the old guard (Kim, Justine, Venus, Serena, Maria, Kuzy, Dementieva) with some of the upstarts mentioned and there’s considerable potential, imo.


toodle pip Says:

The Serbs are done

How? Jankovic won Cincinnati a month ago.


Giner Says:

toodle pip Says:

“The Serbs are done

How? Jankovic won Cincinnati a month ago.”

And Dementieva won Montreal just before the USO. Then what happened?

Conclusion: The Slams are a different beast. The best way for a ‘not ready to win a slam’ player to win a slam is to meet in the final another player who is also ‘not ready to win a slam’. That way one of these players has to win it. A case in point would be the 2004 French Open final between Myskina and Dementieva. Both were nervous and played like crap. Mysky just played less crap. It was still a 6-1 6-2 match with few winners and many errors from both players. Against anyone who wasn’t a choker, either of them would have lost badly.

The next example happened again at the USO of the same year.. Kuznetsova vs Dementieva. Face it, if Kuzy met someone better, she would have lost.

Demy is a nice girl, but it’s safe to write her off now. She’ll win some more Tier I’s but at the Slams she is past her use by date.


Franz Says:

bringing “tennis” back to women’s tennis


ShayHay Says:

I can’t believe people are actually excited to see this cheater back on the court? It’s mind boggling. People forget that she quit weeks before the French Open where she was defending champ and heavily favored to win … none of it made any “sense” at the time … but now it does.

Let’s not forget that Henin was a known cheater and decidedly bad sport on the court – that is just a fact.
I mean is this the type of behavior we have to look forward to?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bb8w5_i6wms


Andrew Miller Says:

But now there is Hawk-Eye. Henin can’t mess with Hawk-Eye!


margot Says:

As article in timesonline says the tennis court is like an amphitheatre, behaviour, good or bad, is magnified beyond belief. I think tennis players, playing as individuals, seem to be too vulnerable to harsh moral judgements. On the roads people get scarily enraged over very minor stuff, so angry they do actually kill people. Hey people, cut the tennis guys and girls some slack, nobody died.


toodle pip Says:

How? Jankovic won Cincinnati a month ago.”

And Dementieva won Montreal just before the USO. Then what happened?

Jelena’s grandma died, that’s what happened. Giner, be more respectful of a person’s grief. She was a finalist at last years’ USO with Serena.


Tennis This Says:

I can’t wait for Henin to make her return to tennis. The competition will be more that fierce but I think she has what it takes to get on the board. It will be difficult for her to gain the respect of her fellow athletes, however; I’m sure her return will be praised by her fans!


I like tennis bullies Says:

only 38 comments for a player who was considered to be the wta federer ?

guess she wasnt missed all that much.


faeaki7 Says:

It will be difficult for her to gain the respect of her fellow atheletes, however; I’m sure her return will be praised by her fans!

Thats a little disrespectful of Justin I feel. She doesn’t need to gain respect! she is a multiple GS champion and a huge talent, it may take a some time to live up to her previous achievements but you have to give her credit, unlike Sharapova (who I am a fan of too because she is so mentally tough), Justin didn’t leave because of Injury, there is absolutely no reason why she cannot come back and take the tennis world by a storm, positive thinking everyone!


ShayHay Says:

I like tennis bullies Says:
only 38 comments for a player who was considered to be the wta federer ?

guess she wasnt missed all that much.

—————————–

Can’t say I missed her at all….

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