Wednesday, May 14, 2008

BREAKING: Justine Henin to Retire?

If you believe this report, then the answer is yes:

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP)—Justine Henin is quitting professional tennis, according to a Belgian newspaper.

The 25-year-old Henin, the top-ranked player in the world, will make the announcement Wednesday, Het Nieuwsblad reported.

Henin has been battling fatigue and not playing well.

This year she lost to Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Italy’s Francesca Schiavone. Last week she was ousted from the Berlin Open in the third round and this week she pulled out of the Italian Open.

Henin’s retirement will come a year after Belgium’s Kim Clijsters said farewell to competitive tennis. Clijsters has since married and become a mother.

Henin’s rise to the top began in the mid-1990s.

Despite a troubled personal life—her mother died in 1995, her father did not speak to her for eight years and she divorced in 2007—Henin won an Olympic gold medal and all major tournaments except Wimbledon.

Her best year was 2007, when she earned more than $5 million winning 63 of her 67 matches in 10 tournaments, including two grand slam events.

Jon Wertheim reports talks about it here.


Cate said...

it's official.
justine henin retires 14 may 2008.

FO will have a new women's champ.

tangerine said...

Stunning news. Why retire? Why not just take an extended leave if she's fatigued? She's too young to retire.

MMT said...

All hail the ascendancy of Big Babe tennis, and say good-bye to the last throwback to days when they used the whole court.

BeefingFraeulein said...

Justine was the best villain/champion since Navratilova. I will miss her crushing my dreams while lofting tennis trophies over her head...

Cate said...

MaSha'll be number one then.

Craig Hickman said...

tangy, she's retiring because of this, according to her agent:

"She's simply burned out and has no more juice to go on," Meyerson told

I think that says it all.

Karen said...

Craig, talk about a poor choice of words - no more juice. What about energy, fight, etc. For all the rumours that have swirled around poor Justine throughout her career, one would think her agent would have chosen a better word to describe her feeling of not being up to it. yet again the WTA is saying that they had no idea this was coming. Methinks Larry Scott needs to wake up and stop sleeping like Rip van Winkle - everything happens he knows nothing about it. First Martina, now Justine

Craig Hickman said...

Justine is coming off the best year of her career. She's on top of the rankings. Her favorite tournament is weeks away.

And she retires. Immediately.

There is more going on here than meets the eye.

brooklyn1006 said...

Hey Craig,

You and Karen are on point. I didn't even catch the reference to "the juice" comment before you printed it. ESPN's coverage has sucked. Every article has been sanitized. They have omitted any incident from her long rap sheet. The way she has abruptly left the sport characterizes her perfectly...all around tacky.

Cate said...

Maybe the novelty of winning has run out on her.

skivvy said...

Two possible scenarios:

1.) Justine upon seeing any recent Pete Sampras pictures -- (Pete looks older than John McEnroe now, it's sad and creepy) -- has realized that it's just not worth it (selling your soul to win a Grand Slam).

2.) Radek Stepanek is involved somehow.

Savannah said...

Radek is the Mack Daddy of tennis. :)

She looked bloated at her presser. Carlos looked devastated.

The truth will never be told. Too many careers at stake.

Cate said...

What's happening to these clay court specialists?

Michael said...

While it is very tempting to think that something odd is afoot, I think it's quite possible that she's telling the truth, which is often more strange than weird conspiracy theories. To play so well for so long takes huge drive and passion-- how long can it last? Especially if life isn't turning out on other fronts as you'd hoped, tennis (or any sport or anything), even with success, can be a brutish oppressor.

And it makes Federer's reign all the more impressive.

Maybe it seems odd to say that here, as most of us reading this blog could always stand to play more, to have another tournament in our schedule, to watch some more quality play on TV or in person. But what if you had had all you could take-- more than you could take? What if you no longer loved the feel of the ball coming off your strings, moving around the court, deciphering your opponent, changing strategies, going for broke? Would it be so weird to start to hate tennis, being driven (from within or without) to play, though you'd lost your love of it?

Horrible, but not impossible. I hope Justine finds something different in her life that she'll have "juice" for. And one day, to enjoy playing again, perhaps less competitively.

Cate said...

I agree with Michael. Maybe she got tired of winning... and lately, she wasn't getting the results she wanted so the "juice" ran out on her.

Craig Hickman said...

I'm not peddling any "conspiracy" theories.

I'm stating facts:

Justine retired, immediately, weeks away from her favorite event, the event where she "won" her first Slam, the event that made her dream big, the event that reminds her of her beloved mother.

It doesn't take any devious thought to ask, "What's up with that?"

The press sends her off into the sunset as some kind of beloved tennis champion who was great for the sport.

My opinion is that she was a sore on the sport of tennis, but no one in the mainstream tennis media has the chutzpah to write that retrospective.

Not yet, anyway.

tristann said...

I agree with Tangerine, why not take an extended leave instead of retiring? It does appear that there is more to this than just burnout, not necessarily anything sinister, but the timing does seem odd.

Michael said...

I didn't mean to imply that you were peddling conspiracy theories, Craig. I was thinking more generally. Sorry - I guess it came off that way.

I think there's a good chance you are right that something weird is going on here that isn't what Justine is telling us. I think there's a slightly better chance that it's just the truth.

Perhaps it's when, as your favorite event draws near, and you realize you don't even care about playing that one, that you know it's time to hang up the racket. Sad.

I think Justine was good for the sport, at least in her style of play. She showed that you don't have to rely on power to win. The biggest misgivings I have about her are 1) her being quasi-coached (and I'm being generous) and 2) some of her stalling tactics.

As far as taking a leave of absence, isn't that like the corner diner that says "closed for renovation" when everyone knows they are closing for good? Why not just come out and say it? That's part of why I believe the rest of her story- she seems to be giving an honest, non-political-spin account.

MMT said...

I have to say the innuendo here is disappointing. Lest we forget, Bjorn Borg did the same thing 27 years ago. He'd just lost the #1 ranking to McEnroe, and he quit: no secret to keep, ulterior motive. He'd just had enough so he quit.

Why not let the champion retire with her honor? Unless someone has some EVIDENCE that something else is afoot it would be IRRESPONSIBLE to suggest an ulterior motived prompted her prompt retirement.

And it's absurd to suggest that there's some conspiracy of silence to that will last forever, conveniently enveloping unfounded innuendo in the conspiracy theorists favorite cloak: the absence of evidence.

For me her legacy will be that she is the last true all-court player in women's tennis. In terms of tennis tactics and technique, the remaining match-ups read like a recurring nightmare of "dumb and dumberer".

I'm pretty disappointed, because I just don't think I can handle any more of this big babe tennis, and unfortunately the men's game is not far behind.

Maybe the pro's should all go back to using wood racquets like they do in baseball. Then we might see some aesthetically pleasing tennis.

Karen said...

OK, I play tennis and I am trying to figure out why everyone is amazed at Justine's tennis. Is it the one-handed backhand. As far as I can see there is another player right now who is an all-court player. That player is Serena Williams. Has anyone see Serena's one handed backhand that she has developed into a major weapon. She used it effectively against Justine, Jankovic, Kuzzy, Sharapova, Venus, and everyone else that she has beaten this season. She said last year that due to her thumb injury she now has a one-handed backhand like Althea Gibson. If you watch Serena's matches on youtube that she has won this year, you will see her one-hand and her all court game, spins, slices, lobs, drop shots. And do not even get me started on her performance on clay this season. And to top it all off, she generates power, extreme power. Now tell me the only difference between her and Justine - size

rabbit said...

Karen, I am a huge fan of Serena. But it is bizarrely unjust to say that people should not be amazed at Justine's tennis. I don't think there's any doubt that Henin was a supremely talented tennis player, and she really did play in a unique style. When she was playing at her best, Henin's variety of shots and tactics was truly dazzling. Serena does use the one-handed backhand sometimes, like you said, and she is more than capable of bringing to bear an all-court game. But usually, Serena's game relies much more on powerful accurate groundstrokes that never allows the opponent to dictate play from the baseline. Henin, on the other hand, relied heavily on a more tactical approach of creating angles with her backhand and using her big forehand to keep the opponent off-balance, but using less power in the process than Serena, Sharapova, Lindsay etc. use. Beyond that, it's a matter of opinion which style is more "aesthetic".

Although I am not at all a fan of Henin's personality and gamesmanship, I don't understand how there can be any doubt that she was a really accomplished player. I've never seen that low-to-high extreme angled backhand shot used by any other female player. It would be really mean-spirited to deny her even her talent at the point of her retirement.

And regarding her retirement, I agree with mmt and michael that I don't think there's any coverup involved. If you see Henin's retirement presser versus Hingis', you can clearly see that Henin is much more relaxed and open, in fact much more so than she was after her tennis matches. It might very well be that Henin just got tired of the tennis life after she realized that she had missed out on so many years of living in between. Of course, it's not possible for me to know for sure what's going on, but given that nobody is getting hurt in the process, it's just innuendo to suggest that her retirement is for an ulterior purpose.

Karen said...

rabbit, I agree wholeheartedly with what you have said. I agree that Justine had an incredible game and she brought something really good to tennis. My issue really is with the so called tennis purists out there who are denigrating players who play 2 handed backhands and who generated a lot of power as being not as accomplished. I always enjoyed watching Justine play because for her size she was able to do so much, more so than Hingis, and you are right she does seem very happy at the press conference etc and I for one am very happy with the decision that she made, because it seems to me that she made it because she realises that there is much more to life than winning tennis matches. I will not say anything regarding steroid use etc as I have no evidence of this. I made the point that with so much innuendo about Justine and steroid use, her press agent should have found a better word to use rather than "juice"

Craig Hickman said...

Justine often doesn't tell the truth.

That's the only evidence needed to deduce that she's not telling the (whole) truth about her retirement.

I say good riddance.

Craig Hickman said...

As for Justine's tennis.

Her backhand was way overrated and her serve was crappy. She won a lot of matches on sheer will. And let's not forget the blatant cheating. And the cheating. And the cheating.

Did I mention the cheating?

rabbit, I disagree.

I was unimpressed by Justine's tennis because I never trusted it.


Karen said...

Dang Craig, I have actually taken the stance that while I was never a fan of hers, one of the things that I always liked was the rivalry between her and Serena. There was just so much animosity and jealousy and oneupmanship between those two that I will really miss it.

Craig Hickman said...

karen, I won't miss their rivarly at all. I grew tired of it. Serena Williams and Jennifer Capriati? Now that was a rivalry.

If I should change my mind, I can always watch their last match in Miami. Serena trounces Justine 6-2, 6-0.


In the sidebar, Lan quotes from Justine's blog diary about her intentions this spring, about feeling good being back on the court, and about looking forward to Roland Garros, her favorite tournament.

And then, bam, she retires, effective immediately.

Martina Navratilova is perplexed. She opines humorously that maybe there's something in the water in Belgium.