The renaissance of one of tennis’s true gems

All-England Notebook: Women’s tennis without Justine Henin was a bit like the Mona Lisa without her smile.

shahar peer backhand 311 (photo credit: AP)
shahar peer backhand 311
(photo credit: AP)
Women’s tennis without Justine Henin was a bit like the Mona Lisa without her smile.
Sure, it had its undeniable attractions, but lacked that special something that made all the difference.
Sure, the Williams sisters and the likes of Maria Sharapova provided some entertaining matches. But for all their talents, they could not give the game something afforded to it by one slender Belgian.
For Henin brings to the women’s circuit a level of skill and finesse which arrives no more than once in a generation.
The combination of perfect timing and exquisite technique give Henin an unrivaled array of shots, none more beautiful and unique than her backhand.
It is a true work of art.
The way she gets her feet in position before drawing back her racket and unleashing a shot of power and accuracy which should be impossible for someone her size, is a joy to behold time and time again.
So outstanding is her backhand that John McEnroe described it as the best in the game, female or male.
When she retired in May 2008 while ranked No. 1 in the world it was obvious that she would be missed, but like anything else in life she was not truly appreciated until she was actually gone.
Fortunately, she made her return in January of this year and has been steadily finding her form ever since.
Her sensational run at the Australian Open was only cut short in the final by Serena Williams and consistency seems to be the only thing standing between her and the top of her game at the moment.
“It’s a great feeling to get a second opportunity,” Henin said on Friday after her straight-sets victory over Nadia Petrova in the third round. “At the beginning I didn’t know what to expect when I came back. I didn’t realize it would be as hard as it was.
However, there have been so many positives from the beginning of the season and I’m here to give my best and go as far as possible.”
Every Grand Slam tournament is special, but the Wimbledon title is perhaps the one Henin craves most of all as it is the only major missing from her resume.
The first week of Wimbledon showed some promising signs, but a cruel draw means Henin will play superb countrywoman Kim Clijsters in the fourth round on Monday, leaving the tournament without one of its true contenders before the quarterfinals.
It will, however, provide an ideal opportunity to see Henin pushed to play at her very best and that is a sight you do not want to miss.