Team Henin is a family affair now
JUSTINE HENIN is happy; this is bad news for the rest of the sisterhood. Particularly for the seven dolls to be trampled along her path from tomorrow.
The first of those unfortunates will be the Argentine qualifier Jorgelina Cravero as Henin flexes her non-muscles and goes after the Big W title to fit alongside her six other grand slams: four French, a US and an Australian. That's more than enough to land her in the International Tennis Hall of Fame some day.
So what happened when Henin was unhappy? That was 2006, when all she could manage was crashing the finals of the four majors (a very rare accomplishment), winning the French title and topping the world rankings. What's so bad about unhappy, then?
We found out recently at the French Open, where new-found happiness was unrolled, and none of her victims took as much as a set, or came close.
"I'm worried about them," she said of Serena Williams in the quarters and Jelena Jankovic in the semis. Henin permitted them a total of 11 games. She had Ana Ivanovic so rattled in the final (6-1 6-2) that you could hear the kid's knees jingling.
Remember who she was a year ago, losing the Wimbledon final to Amelie Mauresmo? Justine Henin-Hardenne. Hyphenated and morose. Here's where an emotional guillotine, as decision-maker, came in handy: Cut the hyphen. Cut the husband. Cut the long painful, harmful estrangement from her father and family. Cut to the chase of becoming an all-time great.
Life has never been cushy for Henin, afflicted by numerous illnesses and injuries, and the controversy of walking out on the Australian final of 2006 while trailing Mauresmo. That was the case of the 'Belgian Bellyache', for which she was hammered by the press. She didn't get to Australia this year, apparently working out details of parting from Pierre-Yves Hardenne.
Coming up as teenagers, Henin and Kim Clijsters put Belgium on the tennis map. Henin won more titles, Clijsters more hearts. One of the most agreeable ever to grace the game, the sunny, bubbly Clijsters took the happiness crown with her, abdicating to marriage. Now Henin is Belgium alone, and we'll see how she handles that.
Surely no one could have been more joyful than Henin, so often grim-faced, in her acceptance speech at Roland Garros. Making public her reunion with the family, and dedicating the victory to them, she said: "I missed you. I want to offer this victory to you. I love you with all my heart." Amazing, heart-rending stuff from a very private person.
Neither she nor her sister and two brothers in the audience would discuss the reasons for the familial breakdown. But older brother David, 34, said that the rapprochement, after seven mute years, began in April, when he was nearly killed in a road accident. Comatose for two days, he awakened, and there was Justine.
The rebuilding had begun and continues with visits and phone calls. Her father, Jose, watched the final on TV, saying he was too nervous to appear in person just yet. Team Henin has grown in size and strength from a player, coach and physio to a full-blown family.
Setting aside states of happiness and unhappiness, her career has been exceedingly difficult because she has had to push so hard to hang in with the growling, strong-armed company she keeps. Her towering colleagues make her seem Lilliputian.
No shrieking baseline grinder, Henin is a treat to behold. A dazzling shotmaker and strategist, she gets so much out of a minuscule frame: 5ft 5in, 8st 8lb. She can volley (thought by most to be illegal in women's tennis) and her increasingly sharp forehand is backed by the divine one-handed backhand. She is buoyed by a heart hungry for every point.
Beneath the white cap is a tennis brain impatient to conquer Wimbledon at last, after losing to Venus Williams in 2001 and Mauresmo last year. She feels she needs it to complete a full set of majors - but knows she has found greater happiness already.