Justine Henin-Hardenne has one of the most beautiful one-handed backhands in all of women’s tennis. It’s also lethal, especially on clay. Just ask Serena Williams, she knows all about it.
The Williams sisters, particularly Serena, have dominated women’s tennis in recent time, winning nearly every tournament they enter. Both sisters hate to lose, and anything short of meeting each other in the final is considered an inadequate performance.
Prior to the 2003 French Open, Venus and Serena had met in the finals of four consecutive Grand Slam events, and together had claimed 8 of the last 11. Tennis fans appreciated their dominance, but after the second or third all-Williams final, were hoping for a new challenger.
Enter Henin-Hardenne. After coming close to breaking through many times before, she found her form on the red clay in Paris, wearing down Serena in the semifinal and overwhelming compatriot Kim Clijsters in the final for her first Grand Slam title.
The significance of Henin-Hardenne’s victory in Paris is not so much the score line, but rather the message it sends to all of women’s tennis. The Williams sisters are not invincible, not as dominant as they once were, and no longer intimidating.
Big babe tennis may still prevail in the women’s game, but word around the locker room is that Henin-Hardenne is ready to battle. She brings a complimentary game of strategy, foot speed and counter-punching to outplay her opponents and difuse their power.
The emergence of Henin-Hardenne, and others like her, will make tennis a more interesting game for fans and spectators alike. Early round matches may well still be more like a 45-minute exhibition, but the field is getting stronger and will begin to seriously contest earlier in the draws.
Congratulations to Justine Henin-Hardenne for her coming-out at Roland Garros. She is a graceful player to watch with a beautiful backhand and a great court sense. We look forward to watching her game mature as she moves up the rankings.