Lamenting the retirement of Justine Henin & the narrowness of the current game - TennisForum.com
Reply
 
LinkBack Thread Tools
post #1 of 17 (permalink) Old Feb 23rd, 2011, 09:49 PM Thread Starter
country flag pov
Senior Member
 
pov's Avatar
 
Join Date: Feb 2008
Posts: 22,637
                     
Lamenting the retirement of Justine Henin & the narrowness of the current game

Posted: Tuesday February 22, 2011 11:03AM ; Updated: Tuesday February 22, 2011 12:25PM
Bruce Jenkins >INSIDE TENNIS

So many reasons to lament the retirement of Justine Henin


Justine Henin's retirement is one of the most discouraging episodes in the sport's recent history, and no one seems more crushed than Justine herself. In a recent press conference, she described her decision as a "sentence," dictated by her long-tormented elbow, and sounded as if she'd be haunted by this injury during the remaining years of her prime.

There are so many reasons to lament her absence. We'll miss her stirring rivalries with Kim Clijsters and Serena Williams, the historically pure one-handed backhand, the chance to watch her fend off the new generation of baseline blasters, and the eternal mystery of her persona.

With so many great players, the personality matched the on-court style: Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, or the shining light of today's tour, Francesca Schiavone. Occasionally you'll find a case of direct opposites -- the delightfully whimsical Monica Seles (pre-stabbing) versus the cold-hearted brutality of her game -- and Henin certainly fit into that category.

Henin's game spoke of joy and free expression, and it gave the tour a measure of all-court tradition. Navratilova once said Henin was among the very few players she'd pay to watch, "because she plays the right way." But such qualities hardly linked to the person within. From the start, Henin's family upbringing was marked by tragedy, strife, separation and distrust. So often she seemed moody or distracted during press conferences, even after a soul-satisfying victory. Her life was stressful and complicated, and it showed on her face.

I remember the words of Sports Illustrated's Scott Price, who wrote of Henin, "Few athletes ever excelled for so long on a mix of such dark fuels." And in the press conference announcing her retirement at the Australian Open, Justine said, "If there is one thing I could regret, it is that I protected myself too much and could not be closer to you. I hope you will forgive me."

Of course. Forgiveness comes easily when it comes to the truly great athletes, and Henin's life was merely troubled, not marked by criminal behavior or a lurid lifestyle. What's more difficult to forgive, on the tennis landscape, is the robotic, vision-free relationship between coach and player among young prospects. As great as Henin was, she was never going to trigger a global coaching revolution. It's almost as if her star shone too brightly.

When I raised the issue with Joel Drucker, the noted author, historian and television writer who is so highly respected in the game, he was expansive. "Justine has a style that's never been seen before," he said upon her return to the tour last year. "Her game has this odd mix, like a female Roger Federer in some ways, but an all-court player, an aggressive player. Not so much like Martina, but an aggressive baseliner who uses variety, angles, lots of different plays. She just uses the dimensions of the court much differently than any woman -- and many men -- ever have. She takes balls early, opens up the court, and can hit through the court from either wing. She also has a sort of je ne sais quoi, the sort of thing you can't teach.

"So it's not like Billie Jean, who was mostly a serve-and-volleyer, it's something different, and it has to do with her development. Justine grew up in a little tennis pond. She got to be pretty good, pretty quickly, and because of that, she didn't have to worry about winning or losing. Just play. She likes to hit that backhand angle, but sometimes she throws in a slice to get people off-balance, and she loves to rip that forehand. What's pleasing is that she likes transition. Not just defense, then offense, but something much more fluid. She'll come in behind a return with a chip charge, but not always; she just might do a rip charge, and it leaves doubt in her opponent's mind. What's she going to do next?

"I talked to Martina about it, and she agreed," said Drucker. "There's a combination of vision, style and work ethic we've never quite seen on tour. And there's a grain of genius in there, definitely."

So what was Henin's impact in the realm of youth development? None. Zero. Same as Martina's. I remember Navratilova once saying, "You'd think maybe a few kids would see a really solid serve-and-volley attack and try to play like that, but ... no. Too much work, I guess."

So many stars of recent vintage have come out of Russia, but you could summarize the breadth of their ingenuity in two or three syllables. It doesn't exist. "I strongly doubt that a Justine Henin would ever emerge from Russia or the United States, " Drucker said. "A pint-sized Justine wouldn't have been allowed to develop that whippy, one-handed backhand on her own. She's be encouraged to use two hands and become a consistent baseliner, sold down the river by coaches who instruct narrowly and parents who value the game more for money and scholarships than the intrinsic rewards of self-reliance, exercise and hard work.

"I wonder, for example, if Melanie Oudin was ever taught to serve-and-volley or chip-and-charge as an occasional tactic. I once heard a story about how Dinara Safina's mother watched Fabrice Santoro (a master of artistic shotmaking) and called his style 'anti-tennis.' This is why Justine's ascent in Belgium was the best thing that could have happened to her. She had the freedom to experiment and build a playing style that worked for her. I dare our society of results-driven parents to spend more time on sustainable, positive engagement within in the sport. And when it comes to Russia [Drucker shakes his head], "It's a shame that these hard-working players from a nation of rich literature mastered only composition."

A significant part of the tennis boom of the 1970s, well beyond the flamboyance of a McEnroe, Connors or Nastase, was the machine-like focus and efficiency of Chris Evert and Bjorn Borg, pounding opponents into submission with the two-handed backhand. The game was changed forever, and not entirely for the good.

"Those two created a model for how children would play -- and how they would be able to generate revenue from tennis," Drucker said. "Whereas before, pre-1968, the point was to be as good a player as you could be, to match the craft. Sandy Mayer told me that. You weren't going to make money from it, anyway, so you needed to have the whole toolbox and be the best player you could be. Now, with the parents, it's all about winning. They're scared when they watch someone like Henin or Roger Federer. They're intimidated, because it takes a long time to perfect that style of play, and it's sad. It's societal. Parents are too worried about their kids losing. You lost -- unacceptable. You have to win.

"So if I'm the kid, thanks to the Evert- and Borg-created models, I'll be steady, I'll have a two-handed backhand, I'll concentrate OK, and there I go. Maybe a one-handed slice. Then I'll have everything I need. I'll be 12 years old, and I'll have the tools of what it takes to be a pro, to earn my scholarship, to win. When I'm 14 or 15, presto -- I'm Lleyton Hewitt. Or Elena Dementieva.

"So to see Justine," said Drucker, "is like watching a rainbow."

Mulder: "So you're agreeing with me?"
Scully "No! You're bat-crap crazy."


Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. - Martin Luther King, Jr.
pov is offline  
Sponsored Links
Advertisement
 
post #2 of 17 (permalink) Old Feb 23rd, 2011, 09:55 PM
Everybody's a star!!!
 
Shvedbarilescu's Avatar
 
Join Date: Nov 2003
Location: Great Britain
Posts: 23,503
                     
Re: Lamenting the retirement of Justine Henin & the narrowness of the current game

Really nice article and a good read. Thank you pov.

Shvedbarilescu is online now  
post #3 of 17 (permalink) Old Feb 23rd, 2011, 10:04 PM
Senior Member
 
debby's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Posts: 26,512
                     
Re: Lamenting the retirement of Justine Henin & the narrowness of the current game

Ok before someone beats me to it :

Players forum.


Elina Svitolina will PEAK in 2016

Quote:
Originally Posted by Break My Career View Post
Did you see that final? Mirnyi was absolutely useless, paralyzed by nerves and he kept feeding Bryan easy volleys with his BH return. Robson played a very good first set but became equally useless after that. So basically it was Murray vs Azarenka, and Vika won believe it or not.
debby is offline  
post #4 of 17 (permalink) Old Feb 23rd, 2011, 10:06 PM
Senior Member
 
Sammo's Avatar
 
Join Date: Feb 2009
Location: Self-made gilded cage
Posts: 32,326
                     
Re: Lamenting the retirement of Justine Henin & the narrowness of the current game

I lamented her retirement in 2008, when she retired this year she was playing crap and full of injuries and mental barriers.

MIRJANA LUCIC-BARONI ☢ | SAM STOSUR ☯ | MARTINA HINGIS ♚ | DANIELA HANTUCHOVA ✯ | MADISON KEYS ☢ | OLGA PUCHKOVA ❤

Don’t squander the gold of your days listening to the tedious, trying to improve the hopeless failure, or giving away your life to the ignorant and the vulgar. These are the sickly aims, the false ideals of our age.

Did you just compare me to Wozniacki? - Legend
Sammo is online now  
post #5 of 17 (permalink) Old Feb 23rd, 2011, 10:20 PM
Senior Member
 
Talula's Avatar
 
Join Date: Aug 2004
Posts: 3,503
                     
Re: Lamenting the retirement of Justine Henin & the narrowness of the current game

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sammo View Post
I lamented her retirement in 2008, when she retired this year she was playing crap and full of injuries and mental barriers.
Sad but true. The Tour did suffer first retirement around. But Justine was a shadow of her former self on her return.

This is a lovely article and relevant in 2008.

Monica Seles Superstar. Her fans never forget.


Players I root for now: Heather, Laura, Lucie, Marion, Serena, Simona, Svetlana, Venus, Vika. And Caroline.
Doubles and Mixed Doubles are fun and underrated.
Talula is offline  
post #6 of 17 (permalink) Old Feb 23rd, 2011, 10:35 PM
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Sep 2008
Posts: 1,080
                     
Re: Lamenting the retirement of Justine Henin & the narrowness of the current game

Quote:
Originally Posted by TalulaTrauma View Post
Sad but true. The Tour did suffer first retirement around. But Justine was a shadow of her former self on her return.

This is a lovely article and relevant in 2008.
she was worse in 2008 than in 2010. At least in 2010 she was motivated, but her body let her down. In 2008 she was horrendous on all levels.
Lapaco is offline  
post #7 of 17 (permalink) Old Feb 23rd, 2011, 11:02 PM Thread Starter
country flag pov
Senior Member
 
pov's Avatar
 
Join Date: Feb 2008
Posts: 22,637
                     
Re: Lamenting the retirement of Justine Henin & the narrowness of the current game

Quote:
Originally Posted by debby View Post
Ok before someone beats me to it :

Players forum.

Before someone beats me to it:
No! GM! Half the article is about some of the likely reasons that there is so little diversity in the current game.

Mulder: "So you're agreeing with me?"
Scully "No! You're bat-crap crazy."


Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. - Martin Luther King, Jr.
pov is offline  
post #8 of 17 (permalink) Old Feb 23rd, 2011, 11:20 PM
Team WTAworld
Senior Member
 
CharlDa's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jul 2002
Posts: 30,816
                     
Re: Lamenting the retirement of Justine Henin & the narrowness of the current game

Complaint about no variety, but we have a number 1 playing a different kind of tennis and all we do is here complaints. Variety doesn't necessarily mean spectacular.

People need to look at themselves, really.

CharlDa is offline  
post #9 of 17 (permalink) Old Feb 24th, 2011, 12:01 AM Thread Starter
country flag pov
Senior Member
 
pov's Avatar
 
Join Date: Feb 2008
Posts: 22,637
                     
Re: Lamenting the retirement of Justine Henin & the narrowness of the current game

Quote:
Originally Posted by ¤CharlDa¤ View Post
Complaint about no variety, but we have a number 1 playing a different kind of tennis and all we do is here complaints. Variety doesn't necessarily mean spectacular.

People need to look at themselves, really.
I agree with you that we could all benefit from looking honestly at ourselves. I also know it's not currently the most popular pastime.

As far as Wozniacki, I don't think she has a different kind of tennis or that she has yet developed a lot of shot versatility. For that I'd say A.Radwanska fits the bill.

Mulder: "So you're agreeing with me?"
Scully "No! You're bat-crap crazy."


Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. - Martin Luther King, Jr.
pov is offline  
post #10 of 17 (permalink) Old Feb 24th, 2011, 12:15 AM
Senior Member
 
Linguae^'s Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2011
Posts: 6,117
                     
Re: Lamenting the retirement of Justine Henin & the narrowness of the current game

Yeah......... Somehow, WTA just needs her. That retirement was out of nowhere.
Linguae^ is offline  
post #11 of 17 (permalink) Old Feb 24th, 2011, 12:16 AM
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Sep 2001
Posts: 24,268
                     
Re: Lamenting the retirement of Justine Henin & the narrowness of the current game

Today's game IS narrow, and Henin's game WAS different. That said, the tour isn't devoid of players who do it differently. Schiavone, Stosur, Kuznetsova, Venus even (She's a baseliner, but she's also one of the top two or three volleyers in the top fifty.) Even Serena's serve qualifies as 'different'. Clijsters' game is different.

Would I rather a typical baseliner who just hits as hard as they can had retired? Sure. But the tour's okay.

Proud to be an American
Not blind. Not uninformed. We are party to atrocities. But the response of the world after 9/11 is worth noting. Even our most dire enemies offered aid. We should all be so lucky.

Last edited by Volcana; Feb 24th, 2011 at 12:24 AM.
Volcana is offline  
post #12 of 17 (permalink) Old Feb 24th, 2011, 12:48 AM Thread Starter
country flag pov
Senior Member
 
pov's Avatar
 
Join Date: Feb 2008
Posts: 22,637
                     
Re: Lamenting the retirement of Justine Henin & the narrowness of the current game

Quote:
Originally Posted by Volcana View Post
Today's game IS narrow, and Henin's game WAS different. That said, the tour isn't devoid of players who do it differently. Schiavone, Stosur, Kuznetsova, Venus even (She's a baseliner, but she's also one of the top two or three volleyers in the top fifty.) Even Serena's serve qualifies as 'different'. Clijsters' game is different.

Would I rather a typical baseliner who just hits as hard as they can had retired? Sure. But the tour's okay.
I agree that the tour is okay. But of the player's you mentioned I'd say yeah Schiavone - thanks for mentioning her. The rest - nah! The WS were different at first. Other than Seles no one was giving it all to the power game. Then, for the reasons mentioned in the article and others, most young players started being schooled in that style by coaches and systems that were more like assembly lines than craft schools.

Mulder: "So you're agreeing with me?"
Scully "No! You're bat-crap crazy."


Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. - Martin Luther King, Jr.
pov is offline  
post #13 of 17 (permalink) Old Feb 24th, 2011, 01:52 AM
Team WTAworld
Senior Member
 
DragonFlame's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jul 2005
Location: Groningen
Posts: 15,482
                     
Re: Lamenting the retirement of Justine Henin & the narrowness of the current game

I like the focus on work ethic and ´thinking out of the box´. The game definitely has been focusing more on winning then on developing your game. Definitely different from when the williams/henin age began. These girls were totally focused on developing their games and both the results and spectacular tennis came with it. It was fascinating to see every step in their development and cheer them on.

Nowadays which of these girls are going about it this way? Like the article says the russian/east-european girls are trained like machines, and they come up short of the mentality and weapons needed to be an all-time great. I can see why the writer thinks russia will never create champions like federer or henin. They just aren't approached or trained to be different, they're all the same.

So that brings us to: the special cases that bring something different will be the ones to step it up and lead the new generation. But right now, there just aren't that many special cases...

The only one who's really thinking out of the box is caro. Her tennis is different then everyone else's and that's why its so good. Unfortunately this style of play has a lot of limitations and downfalls. You need 100% focus or you just won't be able to keep up, she can't hit herself out of a situation. In the end this style will be very taxing on the mental side, as well as physical.

Can't wait to see the development of more young girls, hopefully there will be one or two amongst them that thinks outside of the box. We just need those unique individuals that make tennis so exiting for us.

All-Time-Great
Justine Henin

Elena, thank you for all the joy you gave me, you will always remain in my mind.
Intelligence Officer of the SS Dementieva
DragonFlame is offline  
post #14 of 17 (permalink) Old Feb 24th, 2011, 01:58 AM
Team WTAworld
Senior Member
 
DragonFlame's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jul 2005
Location: Groningen
Posts: 15,482
                     
Re: Lamenting the retirement of Justine Henin & the narrowness of the current game

Quote:
Originally Posted by Volcana View Post
Today's game IS narrow, and Henin's game WAS different. That said, the tour isn't devoid of players who do it differently. Schiavone, Stosur, Kuznetsova, Venus even (She's a baseliner, but she's also one of the top two or three volleyers in the top fifty.) Even Serena's serve qualifies as 'different'. Clijsters' game is different.

Would I rather a typical baseliner who just hits as hard as they can had retired? Sure. But the tour's okay.
I think the writer puts his focus more on the up and coming teenagers. Not the different players you mention that are older then 25. There's something unique about pretty much all the gals you mentioned, but not about the up and comers.

Azarenka, Pavlyuchenkova, Safina come to mind... all products of an eastern-european assembly line that will likely not be able to produce the unique individuals this sport needs.(and the highest level of tennis with it)

Which i find, and i suppose the writer also, sad...

All-Time-Great
Justine Henin

Elena, thank you for all the joy you gave me, you will always remain in my mind.
Intelligence Officer of the SS Dementieva
DragonFlame is offline  
post #15 of 17 (permalink) Old Feb 24th, 2011, 09:33 AM
Team WTAworld
Senior Member
 
CharlDa's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jul 2002
Posts: 30,816
                     
Re: Lamenting the retirement of Justine Henin & the narrowness of the current game

What I find interesting about juniors is that you have had very very successful juniors with different games who just can't make it far in the pros: Flipkens, Nicolescu, Glatch, Laine, Strycova, Gallovits, Cohen, Fichman...even Mestach, the most recent Junior GS winner. But then you compare them to the Pavlyuchenkovas, Kleybanovas, Azarenkas of this world, and well, who wins?

Except for very very few exceptions with incredible natural abilities, the thing is, big babe tennis actually wins you matches nowadays on the tour. And is much easier to 'teach' to natural athletes, who are competitive and determined, but not necessarily having that natural flair.

I think what Radwanska and Wozniacki are proving is that you can develop through the junior world and still have a 'different' game that is successful on the pro tour.

It will happen again, I think we just have to be patient. There are phases in a sport, and, seeing the incredible amount of injuries and early retirements, I do think we'll see the arrival of players with a different game soon enough.

CharlDa is offline  
Reply

Quick Reply
Message:
Options

Register Now



In order to be able to post messages on the TennisForum.com forums, you must first register.
Please enter your desired user name, your email address and other required details in the form below.

User Name:
Password
Please enter a password for your user account. Note that passwords are case-sensitive.

Password:


Confirm Password:
Email Address
Please enter a valid email address for yourself.

Email Address:
OR

Log-in









Image Verification
Please enter the six letters or digits that appear in the image opposite.

Registration Image

Thread Tools
Show Printable Version Show Printable Version
Email this Page Email this Page



Posting Rules  
You may not post new threads
You may post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are On
Pingbacks are On
Refbacks are On

 
For the best viewing experience please update your browser to Google Chrome