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CHAMPION’S ALLEY: JUSTINE HENIN

Champion’s Alley: A series looking at the former champions at the WTA Finals. This week, Mark Hodgkinson focuses on 2-time champion Justine Henin

The tennis public in Madrid know all about Justine Henin's lust for competition. That was on display both years that she won the season-ending tournament in the city, with the Belgian finishing as the champion in both 2006 and 2007.

Prior to the 2006 event, there had been some uncertainty over Henin's involvement, because of a muscle tear in her knee. Indeed, she had only played two matches between the US Open and the showpiece in the Spanish capital. For all the beauty and elegance of Henin's game, especially in her single-handed backhand, she was never above scuffling and scrapping to victory, and after defeating Maria Sharapova in the semi-finals, a victory which ensured she would end the year at the top of the rankings, she went on to beat Amelie Mauresmo in the final. There was plenty of back-story on court, as Henin had lost to Mauresmo in two Grand Slams finals earlier in the season, at the Australian Open and also Wimbledon, and had also been defeated by the Frenchwoman when they met in the group stages in Madrid. And yet it was a different result when they played for the title. "I came out only to win this title - I put a lot of pressure on every point," said Henin.

Of the two tournament victories, it's the second that most will recall with greater clarity, as that was a thoroughly entertaining occasion. After almost three and a half hours, Henin was the victor in three sets, and so became the first woman to win 10 titles in a year since Martina Hingis in 1997, as well as the first female player in history to accumulate $5 million in prize-money over the course of a season. "I wouldn't say that I was playing my best tennis, but I was fighting a lot," said Henin. "I played with my heart and that was great because that brings a lot of emotions. What a way to finish the year. A lot of emotions, that's what I'm going to remember forever."


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Mark Hodgkinson is the author of 'Game, Set and Match: Secret Weapons of the World's Top Tennis Players' (Bloomsbury, May 2015).




 

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