You might not have heard, but Justine Henin quit tennis last week, at the top of the women's game and just before the French.
Anyone who has ever read this blog knows that I am not a big Henin fan. That is being kind. Even though she has retired, and everyone might be feeling very sobby about her right now, I have not forgotten why I've had my issues with Henin. You know what? I'll run them down right now:
1. The Australian Open debacle
THE BACKDROP: So, Justine and Amelie Mauresmo are playing the 2006 final, and Justine gets whooped in the first set. Badly.
THE HELL?!!??: Down 2-0 in the second set of a Grand Slam final that thousands of people paid big money to see, Justine taps out. She later claims that she had an upset stomach and "nothing left to give." Sounds like her retirement speech, actually. Mauresmo's first major is sullied by the fact that she didn't actually have to win it.
THE BACKDRAFT: Mauresmo did win Wimbledon that year, for real, and against Justine Henin. Poetic Justine? Well ... Mauresmo hasn't done anything since, and Henin, well, she won everything else, except Wimbledon.
2. Serena at the French
THE BACKDROP: 2003. Semis. Third set.
THE HELL?!!??: Serena's serving. Well, no. Because Justine raised a hand, signaling she wasn't ready to receive. In the middle of her motion, Serena follows through, thinking she'll get a first serve. The bad news is the umpire didn't see it. And, although Justine could have confirmed she made the gesture, she didn't and Serena was forced to play a second serve. To Serena Williams (and many other observers) that's just plain "lying and fabricating."
THE BACKDRAFT: Um, Justine won the whole freakin' tournament. Serena burst into tears at the press conference. Since, Justine's rarely seen a French Open she didn't like.
Having rehashed all that, I will add two other things I actually liked (wow, that was hard to write) about her career:
1. Her game -- As a fellow shortie, I have to admire Justine's game. Even when I was mad at her, I had to chuckle at the post-match tale of the tape. Venus Williams, 6 foot. Maria Sharapova, 6 foot. Lindsay Davenport, 6 foot. Justine Henin? 5 foot 5. (Right, Justine. Embrace your size, Miss 5'3".) Henin's beaten them all. She has everything -- power, accuracy, guile and variety -- that exactly no one else in the top 10 has. That's going to be the gaping hole in women's tennis. Now begins the official Big Babe era. They're only going to get bigger, folks. Whether that's good or bad remains to be seen. Although it's already getting boring as hell.
2. Her retirement -- No, I don't mean it like that. How many athletes do you think play longer than they should only because people expect them to? It takes a lot of guts to live your life on your terms, doesn't it? No? Ask Jennifer Capriati, the poster girl for the ultimate burnout. Henin deserves credit for not saying "yes" to everyone except herself, especially knowing the scrutiny she'd face.
So, warts and all, tennis will miss Justine Henin. Her absence will suck, especially at the French Open, but TWA wishes her the best that the rest of life has to offer her.