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By Karen Walker
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According to John McEnroe, she had the most tenacious and effortless backhand, women's tennis had ever seen. Martina Navratilova placed her bets on her for a possible Wimbledon crown, in presence of Wimbledon great Venus Williams. With a figure that would be considered a midget in front of an NBA convention of the Williamses and Sharapovas of tennis, This 'so called fraternity petite' Ms. Henin proved to the world and her critics that she was the only one who could rule out the possibility of Russian and Williams dominance from the sport.
On her way to title glory at the 2007 US Open championships, she beat a resurgent Venus and then the fiesty Serena on their home ground, leaving them frustrated and heart broken in front of the excited and turbulent crowd. Henin has achieved the feat that very few women could in a sport that is now dominated by agile and tall atheletes. The 5'5'' frame not only proved her mettle at the Grand Slam stage, but also bought home the olympic glory, which is every players dream.
It was not an easy task for the youngest daughter of a postman from a small town in Belgium to make it big in the sport. Justine lost her mother when she was only 11. Her mother used to accompany her to Grand Slam matches and with Roland Garros being her favorite venue, she once enjoyed Graf emerge victorious and declared that one day she will also lift the 'Le Coupe Suzanne Lenglen.'
Things would have been different for Henin, had she been a wimbledon champion EVEN ONCE, she could never have a genuine chance at the slick lawns at AELTC, but the problem was the dominance of Williamses, the sisters have won 7 out of 9 wimbledon singles crowns among them and with such statistics, its really hard to challenge somebody else' monopoly. The closest she ever came to winning was in 2001 when she lost in the final to Venus Williams in a tough three setter. Venus infact beat Henin on numerous occassions , but this is for sure that one win that Henin would like to remember is the 2007 US Open Quarterfinals when she beat Venus in front of home crowd only to beat long time nemesis Serena in the next round.
Henin had a very tough life on the personal front too. Her separation and then divorce from husband Carlos Pierre was not only painful but also tragic since Henin had gone against her family to marry someone who eventually parted ways with her. Her only solace came from longtime coach Carlos Rodriguez who is still with her and has signed a deal to open a tennis academy in Florida alongside the woman herself.
The thing is, when do we really know its time to hang the racquet. The question is not about the age, its about how things are taken in life. In an interview given to The Sunday Times, Henin clarified her point of view about leaving the sport - "I have no regrets. None. I was proud to retire as the world’s No 1 player. I came to the realisation that there was a great life out there outside of playing top-flight tennis. It became clear in my head that I would be happier in another way."
Things are diverse for different people and different mindsets, Davenport is pregnant with her second child and still isn't certain about letting go of her career, Graf retired from professional tennis the same year she beat teen queen Martina Hingis at the French Open and Martina Navratilova is still hanging in there and in her own words, is better and fitter than ever. Henin's compatriot Kim Clijsters is happily married with kids and has no regrets calling it a day, even though she was a top 5 player in the world, Henin went a step ahead and retired at the peak of her game, becoming the only player in the history of sports to retire at the very pinnacle of rankings.
Sometimes happiness is no more about holding trophies and counting millions of dollars, its also about accepting the fact that things are not fun anymore and that life is ready to move to a new role. Its about the desire other than anything else , the Williamses and Davenports of the game still have it , but for our very own little Ms Justine Henin , its 'Adieu tennis' and 'Hello' to a new life....!
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