There is an intrigue to Justine Henin which is hard to explain. It is in her personality as much as her style of play. You don’t just watch her play — you watch her with interest, curiosity, wondering what she will do next. She asks questions, and you don’t know the answers. She needs support, from her coach, from the fans, but doesn’t know how to ask for it. There’s a vulnerability to the Belgian which is unusual in most professional athletes.
She speaks softly with a Belgian accent which tends to get stronger when she’s talking about her past. She has not had it easy, and yet that resistance has forged her character. She was 12 years old when her mother died, and has since become estranged from her family (she no longer has any contact with her father and her relationship with her younger sister, Sarah, is strained at best). She married Pierre-Yves Hardenne in 2002, but the couple separated in January 2007, for reasons Henin does not which to share.
She is a private person, and that distance is actually part of her intrigue. People watch her on court because it is through her tennis that they get to know her. Her life experiences have made her stronger, without a doubt, and that willingness to succeed is shown on the court. She works incredibly hard for tournaments, and she gives it 100% every time. She is devoted to tennis, perhaps because it is all she has. “Tennis is my life,” she said. “I love it. I live for it.” Few will argue otherwise.
But what is it about Henin which separates her from the others? Maybe we should start with the obvious, her size. She’s much smaller than the ‘average’ tennis player, with the Belgian standing at about 1m67. In theory that should put her in the same league as Martina Hingis, who uses skill before power. And Justine Henin is without a doubt a “pretty player”, whose shot selection is often beyond the norms. Oh, and her back-hand “ain’t bad either” — in fact, it’s been described as “the most beautiful backhand in tennis”. Her opponents might think of it as also being the most lethal.