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WHATEVER IT TAKES TO WIN
Henin's gamesmanship comes under fire from foes
by SI.com writer S.L. Price

This was last September, just after Justine Henin had enraged yet another opponent. She was sitting in the player's lounge at the 2006 U.S. Open, speaking of the time when she had a chance to meet her childhood idol, Steffi Graf. The two women had happened to be on the same flight to somewhere.

Henin had established herself as a tour force by then, had known Graf was on the plane but, she said, "I never go and say hi." Three months later, Henin finally got up her courage at an Adidas meeting in Orlando. She told Graf how scared she had been.

"I was feeling shy and feeling [like] the little girl who see her at the French Open," Henin said. "It was very emotional for me; she couldn't believe how impressed [I was]. She said, 'You are crazy, you should have come.' But every time I see her now, it's still the same feeling. I'm very intimidated by who she is. I feel like the same little girl."

A sweet tale. Whenever Henin speaks like that, she indeed seems smaller than she already is, tennis' Little Match Girl just tip-toeing her way through a world of overwhelming giants. But within minutes, another subject came up: On this day, Jelena Jankovic all but called Henin a fake.

Down a set and one point away from a 2-5 deficit in the second set of their U.S. Open semifinal, Henin doubled over in apparent back pain; Jankovic's stellar game collapsed after an argument with the chair umpire, and a suddenly freewheeling Henin cruised to the win.

"Not quite fair play," Jankovic fumed afterward, but when asked why such charges always seem to be thrown her way, Henin shrugged -- and transformed. The Little Match Girl disappeared, replaced by a smudge-faced gamine, switchblade tough and almost happily heartless.

"I'm not a tall girl, I'm not strong, and I win a lot of matches and a lot of titles and not a lot of people like it, I think," Henin said. "I'm fighting a lot on court, running a lot; I'm playing the kind of game that not a lot of people like. But that's OK. I'm fine with that. It makes me laugh."

Nobody on tour was much surprised by the allegation, nor will the No. 1 player's flip reaction cause any shock. Henin's cool gamesmanship has become as much a part of her tennis persona as that astonishing backhand.

It's not clear which incident offends critics most: The phantom hand Henin held up -- and, on court, didn't own up to -- during the '03 French Open semifinal against Serena Williams? The disputed break point against Kim Clijsters in the '04 Australian Open final, when Henin signaled a ball out -- and got the overrule -- that was actually in? It might well have been the Jankovic incident, except for an even more dramatic of Henin's seeming inability to lose in a sporting manner. Down 6-1, 2-0 in the '06 Australian Open final, Henin retired because of stomach cramps, thus denying her onetime friend Amélie Mauresmo the triumph of winning her first Grand Slam championship point.

"It's a legacy that she's leaving -- or hurting -- by possibly always having an out," tour vet Rennae Stubbs said of Henin after the Jankovic match. "By an out, I mean an injury or an excuse: 'Why I didn't win the match today.' She's such a great competitor and wants to win all the time, but if she's not? It seems she has that little mechanism in her head to say, 'Yeah, but, I'm sick today ... or something.'

"But every single player has something out there that's bothering them, and they don't make it as obvious. I did notice her grimacing at 4-2 in that match -- and then all of a sudden she's, Allez!, Allez! Allez! in the third set and banging down aces and running around like a jackrabbit."

A finalist in all four Grand Slams in '06, Henin is the defending champ of this year's French Open and, on-court anyway, a model of consistency for a tour bedeviled by injuries and its endlessly distracted stars. Yet her personality presents the most confounding mesh in the game: a champion who, no matter how much she succeeds, always seems like an underdog, a fierce survivor willing to employ even the most cynical means to win.

Henin is never clearly the villain or the hero in the day's tennis drama, but a messy mix of both, capable of inspiring admiration and a sneaking suspicion almost simultaneously.

For the record, Henin insisted after the Jankovic match that her back hurt the entire time, and that she would never fake an injury. But she had no regrets about that match or the walkabout that ruptured her relationship with Mauresmo, and she isn't interested in what the world thinks.

"No, I would do exactly the same," Henin said. "[In Australia] maybe I wouldn't have walked on the court. But I would have stopped for sure. I know how I can fight on the tennis court; I'm a real competitor. The most difficult for me there was to say, 'I stop.' It's an awful feeling. It would've been much easier to say, 'I keep playing a few more games.' But that's not me. I need to be honest with myself."

Still, the French Open is always the best place to take the Belgian's measure, because it's the Grand Slam closest to home and heart. In 1992, the 10-year-old Justine sat in the stands at Roland Garros and told her dying mother, Françoise, she'd play there one day; three of Henin's five Grand Slam titles have since been won on the terre battue.

It's also apt that her first major title, in '03, coincided with the unveiling of her steely ambition before the always-contentious Paris crowd. After the incident with Williams then, the conversation on Henin instantly changed. She went from being tennis' Heartbreak Kid to Machiavelli in a skirt, and fans have had a hard time trusting her intentions ever since.

This year? Henin turns 25 on Friday. "Life on the circuit is a bit of a jungle," she said last autumn, but now the place can only seem even more dense and dark. There's a dramatic showdown with Williams looming in the quarterfinals, and an equally intriguing rematch with Jankovic in the semis. It's usually fun to anticipate the resumption of old controversies, but not this year.

Henin is the loneliest figure in the game. Her entourage is tiny. Long estranged from her father, Jose, and three siblings, she separated from her husband of four years, Pierre-Yves Hardenne, over the winter, and opened her '07 Grand Slam season with only her coach of a decade, Carlos Rodriguez, and his two children for company.

Tennis is Henin's one constant. She always speaks dismissively about her personal troubles -- "I just move on" -- but it's easy to see her toughness as a shield against her own grinding neuroses; she can't afford to engage. If Henin were ever to truly consider all she has lost while realizing her childhood promise, the woman's career -- along with her emotional gears -- might just grind to a halt.

"I'm very generous -- very, very generous with the people around me," she said. "But I need a lot of things in my life and I keep a lot of things for myself. And I don't play the games other people play. It's different for me, and I'm pretty proud of it. I like when people say, 'We don't know her that much.' It's better this way."

As always, Henin smiled when she said this, the same smile that she employs like a fortified wall. She looked happy. You'd swear she believed every word.
 
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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Seems pretty spot on to me. Justine plays wonderful tennis but in my opinion she is not a wonderful player. I do not care for her but I have always given her props on her amazing game. Her mix of power and variety for being so short in this time of big babe power tennis is amazing and no one can deny that this girl has tremendous tennis skills. However, I separate the stellar play from the person. These incidents are downright ridiculous in my opinion. The "phantom" :lol: hand incident as it was referred to in the article. "Hand? What hand?" The worst was the Australian Open final vs Mauresmo. Now there's the Jankovic incident. I mean goodness.

Lets see how long it takes someone to try and bring other players into this conversation and try to shift the focus when the article is about Justine and her shady gamesmanship. :rolleyes:
 

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Lets see how long it takes someone to try and bring other players into this conversation and try to shift the focus when the article is about Justine and her shady gamesmanship. :rolleyes:
As many people as it takes to harp on Justine's shady gamesmanship?
 

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What makes S.L. Price the authority on Justine anyway? There are negative articles on every player, and good ones too.

And this is pretty much cheap journalism at work, both in intent and execution. Why write an article on an incident that is a whole 9 months removed, and which is not even controversial to begin with? Does he hope to stir up enough furore to distract Justine from her RG campaign?
 

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This is not a GREAT article. Instead, GREATLY biased. And incidentally the thread title is the one that is deceptive. Most people would expect a positive article about the woman who does so much for children, a woman who has endured a lot and who is not hypocritical or willing to lie or make fake compromises to quell people who make unfair accusations. I respect her tenacity and strength in the face of constant crticism from jealous people. Actually, she has that in common with Sharapova and Serena who are constantly criticized too but who don't seem to let it rattle them.
 

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There was no controversy at US Open with Jankovic. Jankovic lost because Justine was a better player. Some uninformed people just keep saying that Jankovic should have won that match, but the reality is she got bageled in the 3rd set. Gamesmanship cannot explain that.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
This is not a GREAT article. Instead, GREATLY biased. And incidentally the thread title is the one that is deceptive. Most people would expect a positive article about the woman who does so much for children, a woman who has endured a lot and who is not hypocritical or willing to lie or make fake compromises to quell people who make unfair accusations. I respect her tenacity and strength in the face of constant crticism from jealous people. Actually, she has that in common with Sharapova and Serena who are constantly criticized too but who don't seem to let it rattle them.
I respect all those things too. She has had to overcome a lot but this is an article from a journalist that I decided to post. I'm doing nothing different from what other people do when posting other articles. I titled the post "Great Justine Henin article" because I do believe it is a spot on article about her. Regardless of whether or not it happened months ago or years ago, its a new article that was written and I wanted to share it and get opinions about it. Obviously there will be some who agree and those who disagree. The hand incident...I mean I think every journalist I know...even the ones who often give haterade to Serena agreed that Justine was in the wrong for lying. Justine's coach even said that Justine wouldn't do it to any other player than Serena. Denying Amelie from grand slam glory. I mean that was such ashame. Amelie has to have her first grand slam victory marred by that disgusting outcome. The author is pointing out patterns and is saying that in the end, she will be remembered for great on court skills but not for sportsmanship.
 

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Good, and fair article I thought. And while I believe that "gamesmanship" only works on players who are mentally weak anyway, Henin's lack of sportsmanship stands out. Her fans can be mad, but they have to deal with facts. You can argue about whether her injuries were fake or not, but that "hand" is on video tape, and can't be spun.
 

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:yawn: hmmmmm why would a Williams fan go through the trouble of posting a 'great' article about Justine? think think think... maybe coz it shows her as the main WTA villain? :lol: And then you keep on insisting its a great article!
 

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I have posted a thousand times that the hand incident was SERENA who was WRONG. Serena tried to serve KNOWING FULL WELL that the crowd was still loud and that JUSTINE was not ready. She thought she could sneak in a quick ace before Justine was ready. Then she missed and tried to cop out. Then she faked tears to make Justine look bad. All of this came AFTER she had trash talked Justine the last two times she lost to her and had even kicked her tennis bag in the hallway. All of this came AFTER she treated Mauresmo like someone she wanted to sacrifice on court. She made mean faces at Amelie, glared and acted like a wild animal. so for SERENA, it is all about doing WHATEVER IT TAKES TO WIN, whether it means intimidation, trying to intimidate Capriati,acting like Jankovic wanted to hit her with a ball, calling Maria a bitch, accusing Justine of cheating or menacing Amelie.
 

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The Hand... yeah, I saw that incident, and I must say, that's not good sportsmanship... sorry Serena fans.

The Linecall... never heard about it before...

The Retirement... well, when you can't stand it anymore, you have to quit. But the subject of whether she was really in pain can only be determined by herself... after all, it's her own body.

The Fake Backache... even if she don't have it, Jelena should have won. Instead, she chose to argue over a line call, and collapsed after that. It's her own fault, not Justine.

Still, a pretty good article. I kinda feel sad when I read about her being all alone in the world after her divorce with "sissy" Pierre... :sad:
 

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I have posted a thousand times that the hand incident was SERENA who was WRONG. Serena tried to serve KNOWING FULL WELL that the crowd was still loud and that JUSTINE was not ready. She thought she could sneak in a quick ace before Justine was ready. Then she missed and tried to cop out. Then she faked tears to make Justine look bad. All of this came AFTER she had trash talked Justine the last two times she lost to her and had even kicked her tennis bag in the hallway. All of this came AFTER she treated Mauresmo like someone she wanted to sacrifice on court. She made mean faces at Amelie, glared and acted like a wild animal. so for SERENA, it is all about doing WHATEVER IT TAKES TO WIN, whether it means intimidation, trying to intimidate Capriati,acting like Jankovic wanted to hit her with a ball, calling Maria a bitch, accusing Justine of cheating or menacing Amelie.
you forgot complaining about the rain and wanting to stop down 4-5 & set point, but wanting to go on at 5-5... Then complaining again at 5-6 :tape:
 

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I'm not a fan of Justine's personality at all but she didn't have the best upbringing as a child with her mother's death and having to seperate from her father and brothers. it's quite natural that she's not going to the warmest person because fighting is probably all she really knows.

I used to depise her but as i have matured from adolesence i have seen that she has grown up as well. i like the way she doesn't hang onto bitterness with people like Clijsters, Mauresmo, Serena etc (even if she caused a lot of it). I still can't stand her on court but i've got some respect for her
 

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typical American article....nothing else to write about? The Hand the hand and always the hand, pathetic....
 

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What makes S.L. Price the authority on Justine anyway? There are negative articles on every player, and good ones too.

And this is pretty much cheap journalism at work, both in intent and execution. Why write an article on an incident that is a whole 9 months removed, and which is not even controversial to begin with? Does he hope to stir up enough furore to distract Justine from her RG campaign?
Whether you like it or not all of these occurences are controversial.

It's a good article, IMO. Justine is always going to be plagued by her previous unsporting behaviour, hopefully her behaviour will be better from now on, so, all you Justine fans can concentrate on commending the beauty of her game and not feel like you have to defend her behaviour every tournament/ time journos write articles like this one.
 

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Whether you like it or not all of these occurences are controversial.
I believe I'm not alone in thinking that citing last year's US Open semifinal as a case of gamesmanship is simply grasping at straws on the part of the journalist. :lol:

This article is about as good as one of Bodo's rantings. :tape:
 

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I believe I'm not alone in thinking that citing last year's US Open semifinal as a case of gamesmanship is simply grasping at straws on the part of the journalist. :lol:

This article is about as good as one of Bodo's rantings. :tape:
Everything Justine does is controversial:p
 
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