Henin keeping focus on another Paris crown
Henin keeping focus on another Paris crown
Matthew Cronin / Special to FOXSports.com
Justine Henin has had her share of troubles in recent years, but she's not dwelling on the past.
Henin has been the world's most accomplished clay courter since 2003, when she won the first of her three French Open titles, and her focus is entirely on the court as the schedule rolls toward Roland Garros.
"I just live for now," she said. "I'm not in the past anymore. And the fact is that I try to enjoy every moment, even if I've been in trouble physically. 2007 is different for me. I just try to enjoy every moment of my life. Not try to project myself too far in the future and forget a little bit of what happened in the past."
Three years ago, Henin contracted a debilitating virus that forced her into bed for months. Before she got sick, she grinded week after week without fear that her toned body would let her down. But it's been a lot different since she returned in late 2004, as she's well aware of the fact that if she pushes herself too much, she's prone to a major breakdown.
After failing to capitalize on match points in a dramatic three-set loss to Serena Williams in the 2007 Miami final, she pulled out of tournament, complaining of breathing problems.
Henin is smart and picks her spots. Last year, she managed to reach all four Grand Slam finals, losing three, but displaying an incredible versatility and consistency. She has a deep understanding of her body and what she needs to do to take care of it. She won't be forced into competing in lesser tournaments when she thinks that she might be putting major title runs at risk.
But Henin is also struggling mentally and emotionally, trying to find the proper mix in her life. She's had a rough year off-court, deciding in January to separate from her husband of four years, Pierre Yves Hardenne.
So she took a mental break, skipping the Australian Open to cope with the split. But once she came to terms with what occurred, she strode purposely back onto the court, winning titles in Doha and Dubai and then reaching the Miami final.
"I feel lucky to do what I love so much," Henin said. "I feel lucky to take my decisions and try to move forward. I feel very happy about that now."
The little dynamo from Liege, Belgium, has also become a terrific all-around player in the last three years, winning Grand Slams on two other surfaces — in New York and Melbourne — and reaching the Wimbledon final twice.
But it's been on clay where she has done the most damage, and once again the top-ranked Henin is the favorite to take her fair share of the major crowns.
While it has largely been Henin's ability to amp her power game that has aided her on hardcourts and on grass, it's her movement and variety that has made her the queen of Paris. She doesn't have to go out of her comfort zone on clay.
The physically fragile Belgian is scheduled to play Warsaw next week, and the German Open the week after. She'll then skip the Tier One Italian Open, the most important warm-up tournament to Roland Garros, because she's careful about over-extending herself.
Tennis is the one pursuit where she's not left wondering if she should have bothered to participate. She has a deep comprehension of the Xs and Os and knows if she designs the right strategy and executes, she'll be successful more times than not.
That doesn't always happen in marriage, with family or in friendships, as she recently discovered with her husband and has found out on numerous occasions in her on-again, off-again relationship with fellow Belgian player Kim Clijsters.
But like her heroine, the great Steffi Graf, Henin knows where her refuge is — in between the white lines.
The 24-year-old Henin would be truly pleased if she went down in history as one of the greatest ever, but would likely be satisfied if she ended up being the best of her generation. She owns five Grand Slam titles while Serena owns eight. With Venus Williams, they are the three best players of this millennium. But Venus has taken a step backward since winning her fifth Slam title at 2005 Wimbledon. Henin has pushed on and Serena has revived again in a big way, winning the two biggest titles of 2007, the Australian open and Miami.
Henin knows that if healthy, Serena will be her greatest rival at the French Open, even if it's Serena's worst surface. The two have a rich history in Paris, as it was the Belgian who stopped the Serena Slam in back in 2003 in a highly controversial semifinal that had defending champion Williams accuse her of cheating.
Nearly four years later, the two seemed to have put aside the incident and after the Miami final, both spoke of the tremendous respect hat they had for the other player.
"The relationship is very good now," Henin said. "We have a lot of respect for each other. We proved it during the match. We both have a lot of qualities, and we both agree that we are very good players. So what happened in the past is far away from now. A lot of things happened since that. And she has very nice words to me, and I think I have a lot of respect for everything she's doing. We can make the difference between what's happening on the court and off the court, so that's good."
That does not mean that Henin will wrap her Roland Garros crown with a red ribbon and hand it to Serena upon arrival. The French Open title is by far Henin's most cherished possession and once she reached the final, she's been the key master, unlocking the door, walking into the stadium and slamming the gate shut if her foe's face. In her three title runs, she's lost all of 14 games. Emotionally wounded or not, Henin believes that she's the mentally toughest player on the planet. Serena may beg to differ, but she's had more meltdowns on Parisian clay than she's had successes. Unless she gets hurt, Henin will be the player to beat on clay this season. And for the first time in years, she'll be playing not just to satisfy herself, but those who have supported her over the years. "I love tennis so much because it brings me a lot of emotions," she said. "That's my biggest motivation. It gives me emotions, it gives emotions to people I love, to my fans, and that's why I play tennis now."
The most wasted of all days is one without laughter....
Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there
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