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“I Started To Feel Really Alone.”

Posted by gauloises1 on December 22, 2009

Really liked this interview from The Guardian with Justine.

There was one moment when I knew my life was going to change again,” Justine Henin says intently as she remembers watching the men’s singles final of the French Open this year. […]”I didn’t watch the women at all in Paris,” she says with a mildly dismissive wave, having won the French Open four times previously. “I feel closer to players like Roger Federer. And of course Roger was trying to win the only grand slam he had never won. Part of me wanted him to win but, in another way, I knew it would give me trouble mentally if he did.”

Henin laughs infectiously – not the usual response from a woman who has faced down her demons and analysed those internal battles with the kind of tortured introspection which would entrance Jonny Wilkinson. But Henin is in markedly good humour at her tennis centre in Limelette, a sedate Belgian village half an hour from Brussels.

“You know that little voice we all have in our heads?” she asks. “Mine was talking a lot that afternoon. It was telling me Roger winning the French was very special. But it also bothered me to see him win. It made me think how much I’d missed by not winning Wimbledon. It was a strange feeling but, not long after that, I had the courage to put on my cap and pick up my racket. I had not played any tennis for a year and my one friend, who saw me put on the cap, said, ‘Well, I know this girl pretty well and that can only mean one thing’.”

Henin smiles when asked what might have happened if Federer had lost in Paris? “I think I would’ve found something else to allow me to return. I needed an excuse to play tennis again.”

[…] All her fight, as central to Henin’s game as her artistry, had drained away. “I was not happy,” she says. “I was exhausted and I just wasn’t into it any more.

“I was questioning my career and if your mind is not there 200% you have no chance. In those last months I kept saying to [her coach] Carlos Rodríguez, ‘I must keep playing because this is the only thing I can do’. But I was no longer proud because I had lost myself in that tennis bubble.”

Henin played her last match 19 months ago in Berlin – losing to Dinara Safina. “I knew it was over. I made my decision and it was a big relief. Just like today it is a big relief to come back to tennis.” She smiles at the irony. But Henin is also convincing when stressing that, “There was no other option when I retired. I was going to hate tennis forever if I kept on playing. And for the first few months after I gave up it was fantastic. I could do whatever I wanted. I met new people and did different things. I had my freedom again and everything felt perfect. I tested myself with a television series [The Twelve Labours of Justine Henin] when I had to do many challenges. I had to sing. I had to play soccer. I had a little role in a famous TV series in France. The hardest challenge was to cook – because I never cook. But I did OK.”

And then what happened? Henin looks up and, again, she is starkly revelatory. “I started to feel really alone. I started to think about my tennis life. Maybe it’s me becoming an adult – slowly but surely. I realised how precious life is. Because I grew so much in my time away from tennis it made me want to return to it – in a different way. I saw that there was a chance for me to come back and be more positive and less anxious. I had some difficult moments but I’m the kind of person that needs to analyse and understand everything.”

[…] She might be too controlled to appear exuberant, but Henin is driven by a vibrant desire to win Wimbledon. “People forget that my first grand slam final was at Wimbledon when I was 19 [in 2001, when she lost to Venus Williams]. My grandfather died that day but he was happy because we spoke after I beat Jennifer Capriati in the semi-finals. I was very close to him, because he was my mother’s father.”

Henin, who also lost the 2006 final at SW19 to Amélie Mauresmo, shrugs, just a little sadly. “We all have a story. I know mine hasn’t been easy all the time but it was important for me to put tennis away and become a person who can look at my whole story and understand what happened. I can now accept myself for who I am. But I don’t want this second career to be built on all I suffered in the past. I want to build on more positive things, like my happiness. I want to come back differently – with more maturity and serenity.

“Someone said to me, ‘You have everything to lose with this comeback’. But no one can take away what I’ve achieved. This is something new. And if I could win Wimbledon one day it would feel like I was completing my journey. It would also give me another chance to win a grand slam and really enjoy it. That seems a very good reason for me to come back to tennis.”

I can’t say I like her, exactly, but I’m so intrigued by her. Can’t wait to see what she does in 2010.

4 Responses to ““I Started To Feel Really Alone.””

  1. whitelinefervor said

    Even though I’ve been reading about it every day for months, I’ve managed to keep myself firmly in denial about this whole Henback thing.

    But now, in thie cold, barren and soul-crushing two-week “off season” I’m forced to confront the fact: this really is happening, isn’t it?

    Ah well – that was an interesting read. And if she’s determined to be more positive, then so should I be. I suppose I’ll leave just a tiny sliver of my heart open for her in 2010, and hope she doesn’t stab me with it.

  2. Jess said

    I do not follow her seriously (not like I feel for ‘Dina’) – but I admire her as a player and the tough life she’s been through and no BS style. Most importantly, need someone to kick Serena’s butt.

  3. neil in toronto said

    Meh, me no likey.

  4. Mary said

    Looking forward to her winning more slams in her second career. Her chances are high, she almost got Williams in the Australian Open was it not for Serena’s gamesmanship aka taking that infamous bathroom breaks yet again.

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