Sunday, January 24, 2010

In only her second tournament back from a self-imposed retirement, Justine Henin has shown the tennis world what it has missed out on for the previous two and a half years.
With the current lack of depth in the women’s game, having Henin, and also Kim Clijsters, playing again has given the sport some much needed interest. For several years now, the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, have for much of the time had things all their own way.
With the likes of Lindsay Davenport, Jennifer Capriati and Martina Hingis all gone from the game, results have become predictable with no viable contenders to the throne of the Williams sisters. Not anymore, it seems. Both Henin and Clijsters do not look to have missed a beat.
Henin looks to have come back a mentally tougher player. Her second round match against Elena Dementieva displayed what a class act she is. Clearly lacking match fitness, sucking in the big ones, she fought through the pain, and in the end, one had the feeling the Henin was always going to win. Not a bad effort after so long out of the game to have maintained some semblance of physical condition. Her fitness can only improve as she plays more and this looms as a major obstacle for her opposition.
Lesser mortals would have let themselves go out to pasture. Clearly Henin’s stomach hasn’t been over-indulging in its own perceived self-importance.
And she’s only going to get better, not just fitness wise, but also her game. Scary isn’t it? She is already holding her own with the best. Just think what she will do in twelve months time. That majestic backhand, considered by many to be the best in either of the men’s or women’s game, in all of its magnificence, was there for all to see. Henin is almost the all round package. Great groundstroke’s, volleys well, has the deft touches to pull off drop shots and is very tactically aware.
The only potential weakness to her game is the lack of a big serve. She produces a serve in the 170’s kph generally, whereas her opponents such as the Williams’s sisters and Samantha Stosur can all break the 200kph barrier with relative ease. Too counter this, she has to rely on top spin and slice serves. While these can be used to good effect, there is no substitute for absolute power.
She has been number one in the world in the past, so there is really no reason why she should be unable to regain this tag. Henin has commented since returning to the fray, that the time away from the game gave her a chance to discover herself. Extra time to do some much needed soul searching. Too work out what she wanted from life. And fortunately for fans of hers and tennis lovers in general, playing tennis, it seems, is what she wishes to do for now.
She has said the decision to return to the game was solely her’s. She didn’t discuss the issue with anybody else. Too often in sport these days, competitors have a myriad of coaches, physios and an assortment of hangers-on following them around making decisions for them. That Henin is prepared to make her own decisions and take responsibility for them seems to be a step in the right direction. A new found maturity for the twenty-seven year old, then.
Several years ago in the 2006 Australian Open final, she retired with a stomach virus. That she was losing comprehensively at the time led some to believe that she had taken to the easy option of retiring hurt. And Henin has said that she now regrets withdrawing from the match. It is quite likely now that if she had the same stomach problems now, she would be more inclined to fight her way through the pain, win or lose.
With a older, wiser outlook on life, this then, spells trouble for her rivals, which must surely be looking over their shoulders for the fast approaching Belgium wonder.

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Seventeen year-old Bernard Tomic has complained after his five set loss at the Australian Open that starting a match at 10pm and finishing at 2am is too much for someone of his age to handle. Pleaseeeeee. Spare us all this drivel. To paraphrase John McEnroe "You can not be serious!” Come on, if you want to play with the big boys in the professional arena then you will have to put up with the same conditions as them.
You are the first seventeen year old that I have ever heard of complain that he has to be out at 2am instead of at home in bed. But if that is where you would rather be, then that’s fine. I guess you aren’t interested in the copious amounts of prize money that you stand to win by competing as a professional.
Get real, fella. You have to take the bad with the good.

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