Professional tennis player
Born Justine Henin, June 1, 1982, in Liège, Belgium; daughter of Jose (a postal worker) and Françoise Henin; married Pierre–Yves Hardenne, November 16, 2002.
Office—c/o Association Francophone de Tennis, Galerie de la Porte Louise, 203 bte 12 (8ème étage), 1050 Brussels, Belgium. Website—http://www.justine–henin.be/.
Won juniors titles at the Orange Bowl (Miami, FL) and the European Junior Championships (San Remo, Italy), both 1996; won the Belgian Open, 1999; advanced to semi–finals at French Open, and finals at Wimbledon, both 2001; won German Open, 2002; won eight tournaments in 2003, including the U.S. Open, the French Open, and German Open women's singles titles; won the Australian Open, January, 2004.
Justine Henin–Hardenne emerged as the newest star in women's tennis after trouncing rivals to win the 2003 French Open, the 2003 U.S. Open, and the 2004 Australian Open. The 21–year–old Belgian was just one of a handful of players to hold three of the four Grand Slam tennis titles in a single year, and became the No. 1–ranked female player in the world after her string of victories.
Those who have met Henin–Hardenne refer to her dedication to the game and determination to succeed, but her entry into the game came via a much harder path than that of many of her fellow competitors. Born in 1982 in the French–speaking city of Liège, she grew up as one of four children of Jose, a postal worker, and Françoise, who encouraged her interest in tennis at a young age. Henin–Hardenne won a ten–and–under contest and a prize trip to Roland Garros Stadium, the legendary site of the French Open. Her prowess in the sport continued to impress those who saw her, but Henin–Hardenne's budding career nearly ended with the death of her mother from cancer when she was 12. Suddenly, she was forced into a caretaker role in her family. "It is wrong to say I became the mother of the family, because I didn't cook or do anything like that," she explained in an interview with Richard Evans of the Sunday Times. "But I was mature very early and they all used to come to me with their problems."
Adding to the stress in Henin–Hardenne's life was the fact that her father was her coach, but at age 14 she began working with an Argentine, Carlos Rodriguez, who was affiliated with Belgium's tennis federation. As Rodriguez told Evans in the Sunday Times, "He, the father, and the whole family, wanted to appropriate her. They did not respect her needs. I saw what they were doing to her and I spoke up very quickly." Henin–Hardenne's problems with her father escalated when she began dating her future husband, Pierre–Yves Hardenne, the son of a butcher in a nearby village whom she at a trophy presentation. Her father opposed the romance, and she left home at age 17 to move in with Hardenne above his family's butcher shop. Virtually penniless, she depended on the largesse of the Belgian tennis federation as well as financial help from two sympathetic aunts and a family friend.
The year 2001 proved a trying one for Henin–Hardenne, who attempted an unsuccessful reconciliation with her family when her infant nephew died. She won three trophies that year, and even advanced to the French Open semi–finals and the finals at Wimbledon as the season progressed, but learned of her grandfather's death just after losing that last match to Venus Williams, the reigning champion of women's tennis. Both Williams and her sister, Serena, would prove two of the most formidable competitors for Henin–Hardenne. Several weeks after her 2001 Wimbledon loss, Henin–Hardenne went up against Serena during the early rounds of the 2001 U.S. Open and lost again, but bested the younger Williams at the 2002 German Open in Berlin for the title.
Back in Belgium, however, the media–incited rivalry was between Henin–Hardenne and another young tennis star, Kim Clijsters, who was also quickly advancing to the top ranks of women's tennis. Both were young, talented, and photogenic, and Clijsters was the first Belgian woman to be ranked No. 1 in singles. A year younger than Henin–Hardenne, Clijsters hailed from the Dutch–speaking part of the country, and the competition between the two became front–page news in the Belgian media.
Henin–Hardenne emerged as a strong player as the 2003 tennis season got underway. Watchers of the sport found her one–handed backhand particularly graceful and a welcome departure from the customary two–handed power–shot common in women's tennis. In early June, Henin–Hardenne she returned to Roland Garros for the 2003 French Open and trounced the previous year's winner, Serena Williams. Writing in London's Guardian newspaper, Stephen Bierley called it "a semi–final of high drama, controversy, and thrills." At one point, Henin–Hardenne raised her hand, signaling that perhaps she was not yet ready to receive Williams's serve, which prompted Williams to fault. The umpire claimed not to have seen Henin–Hardenne make the gesture, and Williams tearfully excoriated her at the post–game press conference. Next, Henin–Hardenne went up against Clijsters in a match whose television broadcast was the central focus of Belgian life that day, and defeated her rival to become the new French Open women's champion.
Just two weeks later at Wimbledon, the famed English tournament that is the second of the Grand Slam tennis events, Serena Williams seemed to take her revenge by eliminating Henin–Hardenne in the semi–finals. In early August of 2003, at the Acura Classic tournament in San Diego, the rivalry between Henin–Hardenne and Clijsters took a nasty turn. Henin–Hardenne won after a grueling round of give–and–take with Clijsters, but Clijsters then claimed that Henin–Hardenne faked injuries to give herself time to collect herself in the midst of the heavy psychological duress of such matches. Later that August, when Henin–Hardenne won the 2003 U.S. Open after beating Clijsters, some in Clijsters' camp voiced suspicion about Henin–Hardenne's suddenly stronger physique, but later retracted their statements. The competition continued as the 2004 season began on the other side of the world, when summer comes in December, at the Australian Open in late January. Again, it was another tense final for Henin–Hardenne, and the crowd even appeared to be siding with Clijsters for a time. After Henin–Hardenne hit the shot that her rival missed and the game was over 6–3, 4–6, 6–3, she tossed her racket aside, dropped to her knees, and covered her face in elation.
Henin–Hardenne was anticipating defending her French Open title in June of 2004, and following that with her first Wimbledon Cup win. She has said that she will play until she turns 30. "By then I will have decided what I want to do with the rest of my life," she told Evans in the Sunday Times interview. "But I enjoy playing so much that I don't see any reason to stop before then."
Financial Times, November 5, 2003, p. 4.
Guardian (London, England), June 6, 2003, p. 33; July 3, 2003, p. 35; August 6, 2003, p. 30; January 16, 2004, p. 32.
Houston Chronicle, September 9, 2003, p. 1.
New York Times, January 31, 2004, p. D1; February 1, 2004, p. SP4.
Sunday Times (London, England), June 22, 2003, p. 12.