Henin Sidesteps Serena Questions
Monday, 2 July, 2007
Some players court controversy, while others prefer to “take every day as it comes, one game at a time”. Justine Henin belongs to the latter brigade. Not that she hides behind clichés – when she does talk, she invariably says something worth listening to. When she’d rather not speak out, however, it is very difficult to get a quote from her.
Take the press conference after she had beaten Patty Schnyder 6-2, 6-2 in a mere 58 minutes. Even though Daniela Hantuchova and Serena Williams were only two games into their tie by the time Justine came to face the press, all the talk was of Serena.
Justine and Serena do, of course, have “previous”, to use a London phrase. They met in the semi-final of Roland Garros in 2003 – at a time when the younger Williams was on top of the world, having completed the “Serena Slam”, a non-calendar-year run of four consecutive Grand Slam victories culminating in that year’s Australian Open. The semi-final was wracked with controversy after Serena accused Henin first of waving her hand to call a time-out when she was serving, and then not admitting to it when the service went into the net.
Henin won that tie and has since gone on to capture six Grand Slams, while Serena’s career has been less consistent after she hit the heights early in the decade. They met again at this year’s French Open, when Henin won what amounted to a walk-over as Serena played what she herself described as awful tennis. “I just pretty much stood back and let her take advantage of me, and I feel violated,” were her frank comments after the match.
So now that there is the possibility of another match-up between the two, the journalists were not about to let the opportunity slide. “Serena says that when she plays well, she’s unbeatable. What do you reckon to that, Justine?” they asked. Henin’s straight-batted reply was: “I have no reaction to that. Matches depend on a lot of things. Form, how fresh you feel physically, all sorts of things.”
0-15 to Justine, but the journalists were not about to concede service without a fight, briefly trying a slightly different, more Henin-related tack.
“You’ve been world number one for some time now. Do you think you’re number one?” was the question. Henin replied: “Well, the statistics say I am, but I always respect my opponents and, whenever I go out on to the court, both players start from scratch. In tennis, you’re always starting afresh – every game, every match. I know that I’ve been consistent despite injuries and some tough times, so I’ve got nothing to prove, except to myself.”
0-30. Time to probe the Serena angle one more time in an attempt to break the Henin resistance. “Who would you prefer to play in the next round – Serena or Hantuchova?” “No comment.”
0-40, three break points. “Come on, why not? Federer at the French said that, out of Djokovic and Nadal, he’d prefer to play Djokovic,” the journalist persisted.
Justine sighed, raised her eyebrows and then took the question – on her own terms. “Roger can come out and say what he wants. Looking ahead too much can be a big mistake, and that’s not the way we do things here. Mentally, this is a very difficult sport, and you can waste a lot of time and energy on external factors and outside influences. I prefer to keep my energy for the courts.”
Game, Miss Henin. And off she went, to prepare for her next match – whoever she ends up facing.
Written by Drew Lilley