Interesting article from fox sports - Justine sounds a little vulnerable, although I think it might be slightly over-critical of her performances this year. Or does one bad match = a slump?
BY MATTHEW CRONIN
Mar. 13, 2002 1:17 a.m.
While it's not unusual to see athletes go into sophomore slumps, it's a bit odd when the player herself more or less predicts it's going to happen when the season is only 10 weeks old.
But after she was crushed 6-3, 6-3 by talented Slovakian 18-year-old Daniela Hantuchova in the third round of the Pacific Life Open, the 19-year-old Henin said that the pressure of being a Wimbledon finalist and top-10er is already getting to her.
"She's a young player. She has nothing to lose," Henin said of Hantuchova, the smooth-swinging, ultra-confident granddaughter of a one-time Slovakian No.1 women's player. "I didn't play a good match. She played so well. I was too nervous at the beginning and couldn't develop my game. I practiced with her a few days ago and I could feel she was playing so well. Maybe I was a little bit afraid of this match. I'm a little frustrated. It's a little bit sad."
The funny thing about Henin is that as well as she played last year in reaching the Roland Garros semis and then toppling red-hot Jennifer Capriati to reach the Wimbledon final (where she pushed Venus Williams to three sets), she felt like she had major improvements to make. This year, she began her campaign by losing to Venus in the final of the Gold Coast, then falling to countrywoman Kim Clijsters at both Sydney and the Australian Open. She then lost to Monica Seles in Paris and fell to Venus against in the final of Antwerp.
She has beaten plenty of good but not great players in '02, including Anna Kournikova, Daja Bedanova, Barbara Schett, Elena Dementieva and Nathalie Dechy. The gritty woman who helped lead her tiny nation of Belgium to the '02 Fed Cup title seems to think that she has to rework her serve entirely to make a larger step in the game, rather then just making gradual improvements.
The result on Monday in Indian Wells was eight double faults, a horrific 42.5 percent winning percentage on her service points and 24 unforced errors to only nine winners.
"She was an outsider like I was last year," Henin said of the composed Hantuchova, who so sure of herself that she declined an invitation to play doubles with Martina Navratilova. "That's the difference. She's not asking a lot of questions in her head. She just tries to hit everything. She can be strong. Last year I was an outsider, now I'm in the top 10. It's different."
What we have here is a super-intense, non-nonsense person and player who is too tightly wound up about her prospects and is in danger of letting all her parts break while trying to improve one.
"I couldn't play my game," said Henin, whose famed backhand completely went to pot in the second set. "When it's like this, I can't serve very well. When you're not ready emotionally, its hard to develop your game. My serve was good sometimes and other times I double-faulted."
Without getting overly technical, Henin — who served with some effectiveness last year — has changed her service stance and knee bend. Now, she bends her left knee twice before she strikes the ball and as a result, is making contact at too low of a point and parking her serve. Why the change?
"I changed the movement because I wasn't consistent enough," Henin said. "I worked very hard on it. It's going to take some months to fix it. I think that when I'm well in my head and when I'm playing well, my serve is fine.
"Physically, it's easier for me to serve like this. I lost a lot of matches with my serve last year so we decided to change it. In a lot of matches, it's going to be better. Today was a little bit worse."
There are some observers who already believe that Henin will not win even one Grand Slam in her career, because she is too small, takes too big of a swing and despite her wondrous shotmaking, does not have a money shot to go to.
But this is specious reasoning, because a big part of winning Slams is commitment, competitiveness, heart and guts. Henin has all of these elements and merely needs to take it easy on herself and allow her game to flourish naturally, rather than force change. She seems willing to weather the storm.
"It takes time to make an adaptation," Henin said. Sometimes it takes months to accept this situation. I can accept this situation. But sometimes it's a lot of pressure. I have to work on it and live with it."