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Home / Sports / Henin overcame odds

Henin overcame odds

Justine Henin's shock retirement brings down the curtain on a compelling career that saw the little Belgian scale the heights after overcoming her lack of physical power and a troubled family life.

sports Updated: May 14, 2008 20:49 IST
Greg Fraser
Greg Fraser

Justine Henin's shock retirement brings down the curtain on a compelling career that saw the little Belgian scale the heights after overcoming her lack of physical power and a troubled family life.

At just 1.67 metres and weighing in at a skimpy 57 kilogrammes she had no real right to expect to compete with the towering power-hitters like the Williams sisters, Lindsay Davenport and Maria Sharpova, but through a mixture of talent and sheer determination she first matched them and then marched past them.

World No 1 for the past two seasons, Justine Henin started the year the undisputed world champion although her campaign in the Olympic year of 2008 got off to a poor start when she was hammered by Sharapova in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open.

At just 25, the woman from Liege, the main town in French-speaking Belgium won seven Grand Slams during her short but spectacular career, four French Opens. two US Open crowns and one Australian Open while only the grass courts of Wimbledon escaped her clutches.

At the top of her art, she was a deserved champion but her off-court personal life was dark and troubled.

She has two older brothers and a sister but suffered the deep pain of losing her mother to cancer when she was just 12.

Coached by Argentine Carlos Rodriguez from the age of 14, Henin won the French Open junior title at 15 but saw her career momentum slowed down by a succession of injuries.

She made a professional breakthrough in 2001 by storming into the semi-finals of Roland Garros before losing to Belgian compatriot Kim Clijsters and then going on to reach the final of Wimbledon where she was beaten by American Venus Williams.

She also teamed up with Clijsters to win the Fed Cup.

In November 2002, she married Pierre-Yves Hardenne, a tennis coach at a private ceremony in which guests were asked not to bring presents but make donations to an association that helped children with cancer.

Glory was just around the corner. In 2003, she won her first title at Roland Garros on the Paris clay, thrashing Clijsters in straight sets which set a winning machine into motion.

While she again failed at Wimbledon, she won the US Open championship for the first time and finished the year as world No 1

In 2004, she picked up where she left off, winning the Australian Open only to be hit by a mystery virus which cost her the number one spot and her year was only brightened by the individual gold medal at the Athens Games.

Back to full fitness, she won the French Open for the second time in 2005 and really found her stride again in 2006 when she reached the final of all four Grand Slams but only came away with another Paris title for her efforts.

Back to number one, she remained there for the entire 2007 campaign, winning Roland Garros and the US Open but the year was marred by her divorce and a serious car accident that involved her eldest brother.

The incident helped her resume relations with her father with whom she had been estranged.

She was considered to be the most complete female player since Chris Evert and boasted a fabulous one-handed backhand - one of the finest ever seen in the game.

Very mobile, she also had a tenacity that more than made up for her small physical stature.

Henin had started the year as world No 1, a favourite to add one or two further Grand Slam titles to her career list and a good bet for a second Olympic gold in China.

But Wednesday's shock decision underlined just how rapidly matters can change in the increasingly physical and mentally-sapping world of top-tier tennis.