Justine Henin: Belgium's latest tennis prodigy
(taken from the January 21st edition of Notes and Netcords, the official newsletter of the Sanex WTA Tour)
Her emergence on the international tennis scene should not come as a surprise. The Belgian talent won the 1997 French Open Junior Championships as well as her debut professional event at Antwerp in 1999, only the fifth player to achieve the feat. She pushed Lindsay Davenport to 7-5 in the third set in the second round of the 1999 French Open, her first Grand Slam. Sidelined by injuries for almost half of the 2000 season, she went through a rigorous training program in December and entered the 2001 season in tip-top shape and exceedingly motivated. Her efforts paid off. She won two consecutive tournaments at Gold Coast and Canberra, won 13 consecutive matches and improved her ranking from No. 45 to No. 22 in the space of two weeks.
She certainly hasn't been inconspicuous at the Australian Open, drawing raves from appreciative fans and compliments from her colleagues on Tour. Although she lost in the fourth round to Monica Seles in a three set match that lasted about two hours, Lindsay Davenport described her as a strong contender in this Grand Slam event and her success prompted Martina Hingis to pick her as one of the dark horses in this year's event.
"It's so good to hear these comments but I think there's still a long way to go [to be] in the top seeding and to play against these kind of players," remarked Henin about the attention she's been receiving.
The young girl from Rochefort is a product of the excellent Belgian Tennis Federation program. At the age of 14, she attended a tennis school in Mons set up by the Francophone Association of Tennis, where she studied in the mornings and spent the afternoons on the courts. While there, she met her current coach, Carlos Rodigues - an Argentine who has been in Belgium for 15 years.
As a junior, Henin competed against Kim Clijsters, another Belgian tennis prodigy who attended the same school established by the Dutch wing of the Federation at Wilrijk. Today, the two are close friends on Tour and they both benefit from and are motivated by each other's success.
Henin credits the Federation for the string of success enjoyed by Belgian players.
"I think the Federation has done a good job and I also think we have a strong work ethic in Belgium," she remarks. "Before, when we won a tournament we were happy and might have skipped practicing after that, but now we work much harder. The Federation has helped me a lot since I was 12 and it continues to help me."
Henin has had her share of adversity. When she was 13, she lost her mother to intestinal cancer. This loss has given the teenager an exceptional inner strength and that accounts for the maturity she has acquired at such a tender age.
She travels with Carlos and her fiancé, Pierre-Yves, whom she plans to marry "perhaps in two years".
We had the chance to talk with Justine following her sweeping victory over No. 14 seed Sandrine Testud in the third round. She discussed her recent accomplishments on Tour, her life on and off the court, Belgian tennis, and her mother's passing.
Q. Justine you just won your 13th consecutive match. What has this win streak done for your confidence on the court?
A. I am playing the best tennis of my career right now, I am feeling physically and mentally very strong. I am not afraid to lose anymore.
Q. Did you expect to perform so well so early in the season?
A. No - definitely not! I am very happy that this came so soon.
Q. To what do you attribute those results?
A. I will have been working with Carlos five years this June. He is a great coach and understands me well. He insisted a lot during the winter on endurance training so I was running 10 km. three times a week. My repetitive injuries last year prevented me from working on that aspect. My physical trainer is Patrick Meur. Also, I am alright in my head and that makes me mentally stronger.
Q. What is your goal for this season?
A. My goal is to give my best this year, and not be injured like last year. I would like to play all the tournaments I enter, try my hardest and then I will be very happy.
Q. What's the most difficult part about being on Tour?
A. Being on the Tour is not the real life. I like going home to my friends and realizing this. It is really difficult to have close friends in tennis as we are all competing against each other, but I don't mind this as I accept this is the tennis life for the moment.
Q. Has the media attention bothered you?
A. In the last few weeks it has increased a lot, but I know that I must accept it as it comes with winning, and I would rather be winning than losing.
Q. What is your relationship like with past/present Belgium players?
A. We all got on very well and it was nice to have the young and the old together at the Fed Cup final in November. I get on really well with Kim, Sabine and Dominique, as she comes from the same part of Belgium as I do (the French speaking part), and she was always nice and supportive to me. Sabine and Dominique have been a great inspiration for Kim and I. They had a great career both, and I think it was a good motivation for us to try to do the same. We'll just try to continue the way that they opened to us.
Q. Do you have any close friends on Tour?
A. My best friends on the Tour are Nathalie Dechy and Kim Clijsters. We have all grown up together and will be on the Tour a long time, so it is nice to spend time with people like that who you get on with.
Q. What player(s) on Tour do you admire/respect why?
A. I really admire and respect Monica Seles for her comeback and how difficult that must have been. She is a great competitor and person. I also respect Martina and Lindsay, for their games.
Q. Do you have any interesting superstitions or routines?
A. I have a lot actually, I am very superstitious. If I win, I always wear the same shirt (washed of course). I never step on the lines in between points. I like to go to the same restaurants and eat the same menu, believe it or not!
Q. Share some interests you have out-side of tennis
A. I like to listen to music, Celine Dion and U2 are my favorites, and go to the movies, The Bodyguard is my favorite film. Sports-wise, I like to watch Basketball in Belgium and when I was younger I used to play soccer
Q. Your mother passed away when you were 13-years old. How did you handle the adversity? Has it made you a stronger person?
A. Mom passed away on March 26, 1995 due to intestinal cancer. She was, and continues to be the best person in my life. I always said that it would be the end of my life if she died, but when she did, I learned to deal with it and continue playing tennis for myself. Today I still remember the good moments but there isn't a single day that goes by that I don't think of her. I am sure that up there she is proud of me seeing that I am realizing my dream. I also learned how to see things in a different way. When things are not going well, when I miss easy balls or lose matches, I tell myself that all that is not really important.
Q. Do you have any regrets so far in your career? Would you change anything?
A. None - I am happy with the way it has gone. I think the Age Eligibility Rule is a fantastic idea, because all young players want to play as much as they can, and I was able to take small steps to get where I am today.
Q. Most memorable moment
A. Oh. let's see, taking Lindsay 7-5 in the third in my first senior Roland Garros; also winning the 1997 junior title at Roland Garros - that was special too. I think I will never forget the last three weeks, winning all those matches and my tournaments in Gold Coast and CanberrA. The worst moment was last February when I injured my elbow and had some intestinal problems that kept me out of tennis for four months.
Justine Henin - (BEL)
Residence: Marloie, Belgium
Birthdate: June 1, 1982
Birthplace: Liege, Belgium
Height: 5' 5 3/4" (1.67 m)
Weight: 126 lbs. (57 kg)
Plays: Right-handed (one-handed backhand)
Status: Pro (January 1, 1999)
Sanex WTA TOUR singles titles: 4
Sanex WTA TOUR doubles titles: 0
Grand Slam titles: 0
ITF Women's Circuit singles titles: 7
2001 HIGHLIGHTS - SINGLES
WINNER: Gold Coast, Canberra
SEMIFINALIST: Roland Garros, Estoril, German Open
FOURTH ROUND: Australian Open
THIRD ROUND: Indian Wells, Miami
2001 HIGHLIGHTS - DOUBLES
SEMIFINALIST: Roland Garros (w/Tatarkova)
QUARTERFINALIST: Canberra (w/Grahame), Scottsdale (w/Serna), Hamburg (w/Shaughnessy)
GRAND SLAM (SINGLES) AND CHASE CHAMPIONSHIPS (S/D) HISTORY
01 00 99 98 97
AUSTRALIAN 4r 2r -- -- --
ROLAND GARROS SF -- 2r -- --
WIMBLEDON -- 1r -- -- --
UNITED STATES -- 4r 1r -- --
CHASE CHAMPS (S) -- -- -- -- --
CHASE CHAMPS (D) -- -- -- -- --
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS - SINGLES
WINNER (4 Sanex WTA TOUR): 2001 - Gold Coast, Canberra, s'Hertogenbosch; 2000 - ITF/Liege-BEL; 1999 - Antwerp, ITF/Reims-FRA; 1998 - ITF/Gelos-FRA, ITF/Grenelefe-USA, ITF/Ramat Hasharon-ISR; 1997 - ITF/Le Touquet-FRA, ITF/Koksijde-BEL
SEMIFINALIST (3): 2001 - Roland Garros, Estoril, German Open
QUARTERFINALIST (6): 2001 - Hamburg; 2000 - Hobart, Palermo, Bratislava; 1999 - Luxembourg, Quebec City
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS - DOUBLES
SEMIFINALIST (2): 2001 - Roland Garros (w/Tatarkova); 1999 - Antwerp (w/Kremer) ADDITIONAL: Belgian Fed Cup Team 2000.
-Seeded eighth, won the first tournament of 2001 at Gold Coast with a 7-6, 6-4 win in the final over Silvia Farina Elia after trailing 1-4 in the first set
-Extended her 2001 record to 10-0 by winning her second tournament of the year in Canberra with upsets of four seeds, including world No. 13 Chanda Rubin and No. 17 Sandrine Testud
-In 2001 became the first player in 13 years (Shriver, 1988) to win two straight tournaments coming into the year's first Grand Slam
-Extended her 2001 undefeated string to 13 matches with a fourth-round finish at the Australian Open, including an upset of 14th seed Sandrine Testud before falling to world No. 4 Monica Seles in three sets; improved her world ranking to No. 20
-Semifinalist at 2001 Estoril
-Stunned world No. 2 Venus Williams en route to her first Tier I semifinal at the 2001 German Open, and battled fourth-ranked Jennifer Capriati into the third set before spraining her right ankle and retiring from the match
-Reached her first Grand Slam semifinal at the 2001 French Open, winning her third-round match on Court Centrale on her 19th birthday; fell in a three-set semifinal to compatriot Kim Clijsters and following the tournament entered the world's Top 10 rankings at No. 9, marking, along with Clijsters, the first time two Belgians were ranked simultaneously in the Top 10; also reached the doubles semifinals
-Defeated No. 1 seed and countrywoman Clijsters for title at s' Hertogenbosch, avenging semifinal loss at Roland Garros
-Withdrew from 2001 Birmingham with a recurrence of an ankle injury first suffered in Berlin a month earlier
-Enjoyed then-career-best Grand Slam at the 2000 U.S. Open, upsetting 12th seed (14th-ranked) Anna Kournikova to reach the fourth round and break into the world's Top 50 rankings for the first time at No. 47
-As a qualifier into 2000 Hobart, reached the quarterfinals with a win over seventh seed Sylvia Plischke 6-3, 6-1 before falling to finalist Chanda Rubi n in three sets
-Defeated Magdalena Maleeva in the first round of 2000 Paris Indoors before falling to world No. 6 and eventual champion Nathalie Tauziat 7-6, 2-6, 6-4
-Suffered nagging injuries throughout 2000: forced to withdraw from Antwerp and Roland Garros in the spring due to a continuing arm injury, and retired in Filderstadt and withdrew from Quebec City in the fall due to a right foot injury, metatarsalgia, an inflammation of the toe joints
-Lost to second seed Sandrine Testud in a third-set tie-break in the second round of 2000 s'Hertogenbosch, a grass court event; quarterfinalist at 2000 Palermo after upsetting third seed Anastasia Myskina in the first round
Ranked 66th at 2000 New Haven, won three qualifying-round matches to reach the main draw, then upset 22nd-ranked countrywoman Sabine Appelmans before falling to world No. 14 Amanda Coetzer in three sets
-Became the fifth player to win her debut Sanex WTA TOUR event, winning 1999 Antwerp, where she received a wild card into the main draw; ranked No. 178, defeated top seed and world No. 35 Sarah Pitkowski in the final 6-1, 6-2
-In 1999 Fed Cup play for Belgium, won both her singles matches over Miriam Oremans and Amanda Hopmans of Holland to lead Belgium to a 3-2 win; member of the 2000 Belgian Fed Cup semifinal squad
-As a wild card into 1999 Luxembourg, reached her second quarterfinal on the Sanex WTA TOUR despite spraining her left ankle in her first-round match
-Ranked No. 81, defeated No. 39 Corina Morariu at 1999 Quebec City to reach third quarterfinal on the Sanex WTA TOUR in 1999 in sixth career Sanex WTA TOUR event; fell to 20th-ranked Amy Frazier 3-6, 7-6, 7-5
-As a wild card ranked 70th, saved double-set-point to oust No. 12 Anna Kournikova in the first round at 1999 Philadelphia for her best victory to date and moved up to a then-career-high ranking of No. 65
-In 1997, became the youngest winner ever of the Belgian National Championships at age 15 years, two months, and defeated Top 40 pro Dominique Van Roost
-In junior competition, won 1997 Roland Garros as a wild card, becoming the first Belgian to win there since 1947; won the 1996 Orange Bowl 14s and European Championships 14s; quarterfinalist at 1997 Wimbledon and U.S. Open
-In 1997, received the "Trophy 40-15" as Belgium's most popular tennis personality
-Baseliner who prefers clay courts; backhand is strongest shot
-Began playing tennis at age five with her father
-Coached by Carlos Rodrigues; trains at the Association Francophone de Tennis
-Sanex WTA TOUR mentor is Virginia Ruzici in the Partners for Success program, the mentor division of the tour's Player Development Program
Travels with her coach, Carlos Rodrigues and her fiancé, Pierre-Yves; mother, Francoise, is deceased; has two older brothers, David and Thomas, and a younger sister, Sarah...Everybody in the family plays tennis...Following her 2001 French Open semifinal appearance was invited to Belgium's Royal Palace.Favorite place to visit is Montreal, where her godfather lives...Superstition is to avoid walking on the tennis court lines between points...Pet peeves are people who are late and "hangers on" in the tennis world...Admires her father for his sense of humor...Most memorable experience was playing Lindsay Davenport on Court Central at the 1999 Roland Garros, losing 6-3, 2-6, 7-5, in her second Sanex WTA TOUR tournament and first Grand Slam event...Tennis player most admired is Steffi Graf for her elegance on the court and all she accomplished in her career.
Sanex WTA TOUR RANKING (SEASON-ENDING, SINGLES)
2000-48; 1999-69; 1998-226 HIGHEST SINGLES RANKING: No. 9 (June 11, 2001)[LIST][*]null