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Second Serve - A Tennis Now Blog

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I have been wondering myself all along since Australia open.  I was never a fan of Justine Henin when she held consistently as number 1 before she retired from the game.  Of course I noticed what a talented player she was, but she was just one of them, one of the brilliant ones like Sharapova, Williams, Clijsters etc.  she never played ‘big’, she didn’t have an inviting personality, nor was she imposing loud voices to impress the media.  So, one of the hidden ones really, pretty hard to be noticed if she was not the world number 1.  If I had to pick a player that really impressed me throughout the last few years, it has to be Nadal.  (next I should probably write a piece on him).

So, what captured my attention starting 2010?  There then through the journey of Australian Open, she converted me to one of her big-time fans.  How did it happen?  Was it the magical ‘fairy tale’ the media had been advertising all along?  Maybe.  But there are more to it. 

Justine is still talented, still possesses the killer instinct, and true to her form, still moves very well in the courts.  But what’s more?  Her mentality of fighting all the way, through good and bad moments of play (there I say, mostly bad).  Objectively if you compare all the opponents she played with exception of Zheng Jie, almost all of them were in better shape, looking sharp, fit and confident, even in most points played, they played better tennis and always in control.  But then the miraculous thing happened, in the most devastating moments, with the critical points to hold or to break, Justine did a little magic to push through every time.  Watching her play, I felt like riding a roller coaster in every match, feeling what she felt like, at times uncertain, at times thrive, at times purely lapsed.  So really, I wouldn’t say she has played excellent tennis this time round, not yet, not when you compared what she could do in 2007, she was confident, aggressive and error-free.

I have wondered, why changed the game plan?  A pretty risky decision to change her forehand stroke, her serve, her net play, almost everything once was known to make her the dominate player in earlier years.  Again, she was at the top, she has more to lose than to gain.  She is getting older, she is getting rustier, she is facing more challenges with bigger girls on tour; she is, just playing against every odd.  And that attitude, I pay my utmost respect to that determination, walking into the unknown, just striving to be a better play than ever.  How many great players would come back from retirement or injury and change drastically their games?  I’d say none to very few.  We, as human beings like to hold on to some comfort level especially when it had worked fine before.  I suspect that her decision to improve is more than to enjoy tennis once again, but also to prove to herself and the world that she can get back to her level, and hopefully more.    She knows she might not get it in the end, but she puts herself out to the test.  That's admirable.

So, is version 2.0 going to be better?  I believe so.  I believe so not because I have instinct that this is the way of play.  I believe so, as always is:  there is a will, there is a way.  My view is that it really doesn’t matter if it is 2.0 or 1.0, Henin will find her way to be at her best again.  And I have no doubt.