Sometimes, to value an athlete, it is not necessary to resort to his record if a specific circumstance serves to make the receiver of the message react with the same intensity as the event itself. Today one of the best tennis players of the Open Era is celebrating her years and, whether as an added factor or as an essential concept, the great rival in the tennis career of Serena Williams is celebrating her years. Yes, Venus beat her younger sister 12 times, but Justine Henin She was the one with the most strength and depth who questioned the dominance, bending her knee on many occasions, of the great world tennis dominator in the last 20 years. The last great rival of who annihilated all that he had.
It takes a lot of talent to return after a retreat and a month later be playing the final of the Australian Open (2010), the swan song of a player who at times computed with the same degree of dominance and power of conquest. Justine Henin’s tennis spread across the court completely justified in its form, as if it had never won 43 WTA titles, one Olympic gold, 7 Grand Slams titles and more than 100 weeks as number 1. I wouldn’t have needed it. His greatest title and achievement was playing like this, the one that serves as his legacy. But it was not the only one.
Henin walked on that circuit with that teacher air, as Radwanska would later claim, which everyone looks at as the tutorial and canon to go to know how to do things, but with the poisonous and clear instinct to win grand finals and dominate a list. Justine coexisted without great levers, without the ’60s’ of a generation that had already been warning of the definitive physical change of a sport that in its feminine version was never based on power in hitting, but on the understanding of trajectories and calculation of the pot and its effects.
“I am different from most of the players”, the Belgian would say in the pages of ‘El País’, in 2007. “I can also be energetic, fast and physical, but I think I play much more relying on variations, changes in rhythm and technique. I’ve worked a lot. Many do nothing more than paste, paste and paste. I try to look at things on a technical level, what I’m going to do, which gives me a slightly different style. “
And this is how a world sport is mastered, not only with the natural gift of taking a racket and moving it, but with a mind prepared to develop its potential, an attribute the latter that the Belgian also brought as standard, although she later worked and adapted its capacity within an elite competitive environment. Henin was not above all a unique talent or a huge competitor, but the sum of both.
“The spirit, the determination, the strength of character, are things that are not worked on. Since she was a child, everyone saw where she wanted to go. She was determined to be number one in the world. She seemed a bit crazy because I was seven or eight years old. They are things that are badly worked on. I have met a lot of very talented people who have wasted their career because they lacked temperament. And that is very important to be successful. “
Queen of Roland Garros (three consecutive titles she got to lift), she knew how to adapt to all her opponents so as not to lose ground on fast tracks, and was for Serena Williams, (8-6 for Williams in the ‘face to face’), a rival of its ‘height’. In this field, difficult to classify, which was later more easily defined as “the intimidation of Serena”, the one that transmitted and inflicted on all her opponents, with Henin it did not happen. The humanization of Williams was perceived in his duels, a challenge of his own and shared in which Henin did not break. A duel in which Williams looked straight ahead while stretched.
With a delicate, artistic, silky wrapping and ultra-dominant content, between angles and power, Henin punished players from another court in an era that today is viewed and remembered with a certain envy and nostalgia. The first decade of the 2000s can boast of having profiles and talents of enormous level, just when Steffi Graf went out, the Williams were lit, the Russians did the same and the Belgians put the icing on the cake. And there was Justine, in those years.