Women’s tennis is in disarray. Look at the U.S. Open for a perfect example. The second seed, Maria Sharapova, loses in the third round to a girl, Agnieszka Radwańska, who has more consonants in her name than she has teeth. Tatiana Golovin, of France, and ranked 17th, is defeated in the first round by Ahsha Rolle, an American who’s easily carrying an extra 15 pounds. By the conclusion of the Open, there was a lot of shuffling in the rankings, affecting all but one player.
Justine Henin’s name might not stay the same, (she was recently divorced) but she’s been at the top for a year. She quietly dominates almost every tournament she enters. She managed to enter Flushing Meadows as the top seed, but not favored to win. Yet, she easily dismantled two of the favorites, the Williams sisters, and still had enough in the engine to smoke Svetlana Kuznetsova in the final. She didn’t drop a set to anyone in the last two weeks.
As dominant as she is, Henin’s aloof behavior has probably cost her fans and endorsement money. In particular, it’s the final of the 2006 Australian Open that leaves a bad taste in many mouths. Amelie Mauresmo, seeking her first Grand Slam title, was pitted against Henin. Down a set and a break, Henin simply stopped. That’s right. She retired, claiming an upset stomach. (And whose wouldn’t be, after being whipped in the first set 6-1?) Not only did she look perfectly fine, but in the press conference afterwards, she offered little explanation in the way of her “injury.” “I had no energy,” she told reporters.
Then there was the 2003 French Open semifinal against Serena Williams. Williams was serving, and Henin raised a hand, a signal that she wasn’t yet ready. However, Williams was already in her motion, and hit the serve, knowing she’d get another first serve. Not. The umpire didn’t see the hand, and Henin refused to acknowledge that she had done it, so Williams had to hit a second serve. Henin won that one, and Williams accused her of lying in her post-match conference.
Incidents like this prevent her from being an overwhelming fan favorite, no matter how good she gets. If she goes on a Roger Federer tear, there’ll always be Paris for fans, or Australia. Like it or not, though, she’s the best female tennis player right now, and she seems ready to be around for a long time.
Look at it this way: Henin hasn’t pulled out of any finals lately. Well, she hasn’t exactly been in any danger of losing, either.