Women’s world number one Justine Henin rocked the tennis world on Wednesday by announcing her retirement from ompetitive tennis. “I have decided to put an end to my tennis-playing career,” she told a press conference in her native Belgium, confirming reports in the Belgian press that she was quitting the sport while still enjoying a firm lead at the top of the world rankings.
Henin, who will celebrate her 26th birthday on June 1, headed the official WTA rankings released on Monday for the 117th consecutive week, but pulled out of the Rome Masters this week blaming tiredness. “It’s a big day in my life,” she told assembled reporters who had greeted her entry for the conference with a round of applause.
“I know that it’s a shock and a surprise for a lot of people but it’s a decision I have been thinking about for some time,” she said, adding that the thought had first arisen late last year. “It’s the end of a great adventure, the end of something I had dreamed of since I was five,” she said, close to tears, alongside long-time coach Carlos Rodriguez.
Henin, who has seven Grand Slam titles to her name and almost $20 million in career earnings since she joined the WTA Tour in 1999, has been struggling this year to reach the level of form that has earned her the last three titles at Roland Garros. She admitted last week she was lacking confidence just two weeks prior to her French Open defence.
Henin has been beaten four times in four months in 2008 including a 6-2, 6-0 hammering by Serena Williams in Miami last month. Her latest defeat and last appearance on court came at last week’s German Open where she made a shock exit when coming off second best in a two and a half hour third round marathon against Russia’s Dinara Safina.
She will be remembered as one of the finest women tennis players ever, overcoming her small stature and a troubled family life to rise to the summit of her sport. Regarded as the best all-around player in women’s tennis since Chris Evert, Henin was especially renowned for her magnificent single-handed backhand, one of the finest ever seen in the game.
This, allied to the sheer grit and determination she showed in the face of the odds allowed her to first match the big power-hitters like the Williams sisters, Lindsay Davenport and Maria Sharapova and then march past them.