Born 1 June 1982 in Liege (Belgium)
When a little girl from Liege suffered the heartbreak of losing her mother at the tender age of 13, she decided to devote her life to keeping a promise she had made to her, namely playing on the Centre Court clay at Roland-Garros. Despite being a featherweight (1.67m, 57 kg) in an era of big hitters, Justine Henin combined unlimited determination and varied game skills – right at home on clay – to keep her promise almost 25 times, winning four titles into the bargain! Indeed, with her name on the Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen more often than Serena Williams (though only by one), Henin has the best women’s record of the new millennium at Roland-Garros. Her character first came to the fore in the girls’ singles in 1997, along with her one-handed backhand which was her go-to shot and also one of the most aesthetically pleasing on the circuit. She followed this up in 1999 by making it through qualifying and then giving Lindsay Davenport – some 22 centimetres taller than her – a real run for her money. She then reached the semi-finals in 2001, where she almost created another upset, this time against her fellow countrywoman Kim Clijsters (2-6, 7-5, 6-3).
The two Belgians were destined to play starring roles here, and it was only fitting that they should meet in the final in 2003. Henin was the stronger of the two psychologically, and dominated the match from beginning to end (6-0, 6-4). She concluded this first ever 100% Belgian Grand Slam final by dedicating the victory to her mother, "who is looking down on me from heaven. I hope that you are proud of me, Mum". The win saw her go from strength to strength, winning the US and Australian Opens straight afterwards. Come the following May however, "Juju" arrived in Paris exhausted and with a painful knee. The defending champion fell in the second round, but this merely proved to be the start of a new chapter. Henin came back stronger and recorded an incredible triple, winning in 2005, 2006 and 2007 and thus emulating a feat previously only achieved by Monica Seles in the post-war era. The first year, she won after saving a match point against Russia’s Svetlana Kuznetsova in the Round of 16. That was that, and in the remaining three rounds, her opponents managed the bagatelle of just 13 games between them. There was more of the same in 2006 and 2007, when she won without dropping a single set!
The Belgian was a mere 26 years old when she announced her retirement in spring 2008, from her lofty perch as world No.1. Her decision certainly took everyone by surprise, with the only precedent in the history of tennis being Björn Borg in 1982. Like the Swede, she made a comeback, and even returned to Paris in 2010. She was not as sharp as in her heyday, and fell in the Round of 16, but not before making it 40 sets in a row won at Roland-Garros, equalling the record set by the American Helen Wills – a legendary champion from the period between the two wars.
Justine Henin’s record at Roland-Garros:
• 38 wins, five defeats
• Four titles (2003, 2005, 2006 and 2007). Justine Henin also won the Australian Open once (2004) and the US Open twice (2003 and 2007).
• Nine participations (the first in 1999, the last in 2010)
• 24 matches played on Centre Court (the first in 1999 against Lindsay Davenport)
• Notable wins over Kim Clijsters (2003 final, semi-final in 2006), Serena Williams (semi-final in 2003), Maria Sharapova (quarter-final in 2005), Mary Pierce (2005 final), Svetlana Kuznetsova (Round of 16 in 2005, 2006 final), Ana Ivanovic (2007 final).