Justine Henin on Why Rival Serena Williams is Still Successful

Justine Henin on Why Rival Serena Williams is Still Successful

Tennis

Camera: Sumit Badola
Video Editor: Mohd Irshad

I was four when she turned pro, and eight when she won her first Grand Slam title; I am 23 now and while she has won 7 Grand Slams and made multiple very successful comebacks, standing next to Justine Henin could be counted among one of the big highlights of my life!

Along with two US Opens (2003, 2007) and one Australian Open (2004), Justine won four French Opens including three on the trot from 2005-2007 (and 2003). After shocking the world by announcing retirement while she was World No 1 in 2008, Henin had returned to the sport in 2010 and was eventually forced to retire in 2011 due to injury.

Having had the privilege of sharing a tennis court with the Belgian tennis star, I couldn’t not learn the iconic backhand she is known for. Even while I was star-struck, there was still a job to be done, and so for every time that I managed to hit the ball, I asked Justine a question. Here’s how it went.

Favourite men’s player from the current lot?

Justine Henin: Roger Federer

Favourite female player from the current lot?

Justine Henin: Simona Halep

Biggest difference in tennis now from when you played?

Justine Henin: The level of the game kept improving but what I miss a little bit is seven or eight girls who are always in the quarterfinals, and you’re always sure that you’re going to see them, and that they fight together to have a higher concurrence.

Serena Williams was winning when you left for the first time she was winning when you left for the second time and she’s still winning. What is the secret?

Justine Henin: The secret is the passion and the mental (strength). She wants to be there, she’s taking care (of herself) and that gives her the possibility to play longer but it’s really the mental part. With her daughter also, she wants to prove that she can come back, and when Serena wants something she usually gets it. It’s why she is so strong. Because she has the conviction, high confidence in herself and that’s what makes her a great champion.

You’ve won four French Opens. Would you call it the best decade of your life?

Justine Henin: Of course it was the best decade. It was my dream to win the French Open and when it happened, it was more magical than I could think. Then I won three more after that, and every time there was something else, every time the emotion was very different, every time I felt the Roland-Garros was my place, my home. And the connection with the crowd – they know tennis, they love tennis. And you feel the atmosphere over there is quite hot, and quite electric. And that’s something that I really loved in Paris.

Could I ask you to pick one Grand Slam final?

Justine Henin: The first one. Not the first one I played because I lost at the Wimbledon. But the first Roland-Garros I won against Kim Clijsters – it wasn’t the best tennis of my career and neither for Kim, but the King of Belgium was there, and it almost felt like Belgium in Paris. It was quite a sensational feeling.

It is only fitting that you have come all the way to Delhi for something related to Roland-Garros. Tell us about that.

Justine Henin: We’re here for the Junior Wild Card Series. It’s a tournament that brings the best junior Indian players to play a tournament. One boys' winner and one girls' winner, and they get the chance to go to Roland-Garros to feel the atmosphere over there. There’ll be a final tour against players from Brazil and China, and the winner of that final tour will get a wildcard to play in the Junior main draw of Roland-Garros.

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