I needed to get this off my chest, because I felt as though it needed to be said.
Now that the 2006 WTA Season is complete and the women have let their racquets speak for themselves, I think it is very appropriate to revisit the lynching of Justine Henin-Hardenne in January 2006 and her reply to the tennis world this season.
Never before in the Open Era has any player recieved such criticism over an injury withdrawl from a Grand Slam tournament as Justine Henin-Hardenne did at the 2006 Australian Open Finals. She was ingesting anti-inflammatory medication for a shoulder injury when she began cramping during the AO finals. Justine retired during that match because she couldn't distinguish between the cramping from the medication she was taking, or an abdominal injury.
As a result, she was overly and harshly criticized by other WTA players, the sports media, tennis columnists and commentators. It was a modern-day lynching of a tennis player that was steadfast in her defense, which she believed.
Some said she retired because she knew she was losing badly, completely ignoring the fact that Justine is the biggest fighter in the WTA. Some said she was attempting to "take away Amelie's moment" of winning her first grand slam title, ignoring the fact Justine had never before or since retired from a Grand Slam final. Some even said as a result of her withdrawl during the AO final, Justine would never again be able to win a Grand Slam tournament, that she would be mentally beaten by her withdrawl, ignoring Justine's canny ability to fight back from a virus, the death of her mother and reptitive injuries.
Justine's response? The truth. And if Justine wasn't being honest about her withdrawl, she might well have been mentally beaten, to the point of not being able to perform well in the majors and other tournaments. However, Justine didn't fight back with words, she used her racquet.
The next grand slam tournament, French Open, she won without dropping a set, and put her in a position to be only the third woman in tennis history to win three French Open Championships in a row. Her win even prompted an apology from Pam Shriver who questioned Justine's withdrawl from the AO finals. Her critics said it was to be expected that Justine would win on a slower surface. She brought children battling cancer that participated in her Circle of Winners to watch her in that final, and the upcoming Wimbledon Championships.
Next, she made it to the finals of Wimbledon, of which she lost once again to Amelie, but it was 6-4 in the third. Many said Justine couldn't play well on a fast surface. She once again proved them wrong by winning a grass-court tune up to Wimbledon.
Then, she makes it to the finals of the US Open, a fast hardcourt tournament and was soundly defeated by Maria.
Justine made it to the finals of all four Grand Slam tournaments, winning one. She made it to the finals of Fed Cup,
winning all of her indoor matches. She won on all four surfaces, including the YEC of which she soundly defeated Amelie and regained the #1 ranking. She had the best record of any player, won more tournaments than any other WTA player and became the first player since Seles to make it to the finals of all GS tournaments and the YEC.
It is obvious that Justine sent a strong message to the tennis world and all that cruely admonished her in January of 2006. She is not only the best fighter in the WTA, but ended the year the best player in the WTA and the YEC, defeating the woman whose GS final in January stirred animosity towards Justine.
It always appeared as if Justine was out to prove something this year. Not only to herself, but to the tennis world that easily and without a thought, attempted to cast her into the depths of tennis hell. She did this without negatively talking about it...rather, she used her tennis to prove otherwise.
Not only did Justine throw every word of negativity about her in Janurary back in the faces of the tennis world, but used their negativity to rise to the top of the tennis world and #1 ranking for 2006. Not only did she prove that she was the best in 2006, but that she isn't going away anytime soon.
The irony is startling. Justine had the last laugh. And so did her fans