The world's best backhand has ceased to exist. If ever there was a living proof for a pocket dynamo it was Justine Henin. At just over 5 ft, she was an anomaly in the modern world of women's tennis. As teen sensation after teen sensation came out of eastern Europe, she stood still at the very top of women's tennis.
While her compatriot from Belgium, Kim Clijsters seemed to prove that nice people can't be champions, Henin set about disproving it. There has hardly been any volume raised about her behaviour on court or off it. On the other hand, she's earned plaudits for the way she has handled herself in the midst of all her personal troubles. While she was distancing herself from her husband, she got closer to her immediate family and in the meanwhile found enough strength, mental and physical to win the French Open. Later the same year she went on to win the US Open without dropping a set, a phenomenal achievement considering she had to meet both the Williams sisters en route her victory.
Watching Henin in action was a lesson in graceful motion. Her backhand was one of a kind, and it might not be an overstatement to say it was better than Federer's. The crispness of the shot and the angles she created were to be seen both to be believed and to be stared at in disbelief. At a time when brutal power ruled the courts, she proved that brain counts for more than brawn. To claim that she was this era's Hingis would only do both the legends proud.
Through her playing years Henin has endeared herself to the both the paying public and the critics alike, a sign of a great champion. Its a pity that the world will no longer be her stage and we cannot rejoice in her achievements, for in her we all see a bit of us, the person who broke all stereotypes and emerged as a much loved much admired individual. Men's tennis might have a Nadal for a Federer, but there has never been a constant second to Henin, a true indicator of her stamina and resolve .
As she began to court success on a regular basis, her many detractors maintained she was just robot like and that took some sheen away from her victories. As time progressed however, the world saw more of her human side. Perhaps, the most touching moment of her career was in the course of her French Open victory last year. During the semi-final match, present in her box was a very special invitee, her coach Carlos Rodriguez'z son. Many times before she had claimed that if he wished her she would definitely win the match. That day was no different and her wave to him at the end of the match would be one of the most poignant memories in an illustrious career. We'll miss you, Goobye Henin!
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