Thursday, September 13, 2007

OK. The Henin ban is off ... for now

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.


Hako said...

I think it's time for a little fairness and clarity. Regarding the Aussie Open and Mauresmo, Justine and Carlos were aware she was having a real stomach issue the night before. The theory was the pain came from too much anti-inflammatory medication for the shoulder injury. It's easy for things to get twisted, and Justine's lack of details just made things worse. The "lack of energy" comment was referring to her inability to get any sleep the night before....again, due to the stomach pain. Justine is a tough competitor, everyone should know that by now, and has come back to win matches when she was losing badly. She seems to enjoy the challenge. Justine also continues to raise her hand at the other players. And she is not the only one. The message seems to be "slow down a bit, let me get set".....not "stop".
Most players are advised not to get involved in discussions between their opponents and a chair umpire. I have the match with Serena on tape, and I don't believe the umpire ever actually asked Justine anything. I also seem to recall that Serena won that point, or the game, anyway, so what real difference did it make to the outcome? Justine has been guarded and aloof, and that has made her a target anytime she exhibits less than perfect behavior. Now, she seems more relaxed, and the fans may warm to her more.

Naf said...

I've gotten several comments about this Justine thing, and to me, the bottom line is this: She pulled out of a major final, a match that people paid top dollar to see, and it's not clear that she couldn't have continued. Never mind the fact that her opponent had never won a Grand Slam before. To me, there's no excuse for the Aussie Open debacle. If you know you're sick in the quarters, as some people have said, then pull out in advance and give someone else a chance to play a quality match. And as far as the Serena match, I just saw a match on TV where a line judge called a serve out, and the opponent, the OPPONENT, signaled it good, giving the server the ace. No one asked him if that serve was good. He did the right thing. I'm not saying Henin's the only one who has shown poor sportsmanship. If the Aussie incident had never happened, I could get over the whole hand thing. You know what? I'm trying to like Justine here, and you're making me angry at her again! :)