By Melina Harris
WTA players and tennis fans alike were waiting with baited breath to see where seven-time major champion, the diminutive Belgian Justine Henin was going to be placed in the Australian Open draw last week. Unfortunately for the players, but fortunate for fans, the draw created a hugely competitive mouth-watering half of the draw featuring Justine Henin, Elena Dementieva, Jelena Dokic, Flavia Pennetta, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Henin’s Belgian rival Kim Clijsters.
Indeed, after impressive first-round performances, Henin and Dementieva have set up what promises to be one of the most eagerly anticipated second round match in Australian Open history Wednesday night in Australia. Henin eased her way comfortably back into Grand Slam action with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Belgian compatriot, Kirsten Flipkens, breaking early in both sets, while Dementieva demolished Russian compatriot Vera Dushevina 6-2, 6-1 firing an audacious 23 winners during her smooth victory in the Hisense Arena.
In previewing this match, I felt it necessary to take a moment to ponder what must have gone through Henin’s deeply contemplative mind as she faced the prospect of Dementieva in the second and a rematch of the recent Brisbane International final with Clijsters in the quarters? Something along the lines of unwavering relish I would think as she admitted in a recent uncharacteristically open interview with the Sunday Times newspaper in the UK, ‘I’m afraid I am not an observer in life. I am somebody that has to go out there and do things. I need challenges all the time, I need to set myself a goal and achieve.’ She also admitted after an 18-month ‘retirement’ from the game, ‘I need tennis; it’s something I have found out about myself. I wasn’t sure whether I truly needed it before or whether it was something I’ve just always done but after nearly two years of seeing things through different eyes, I know it’s something I must have in my life.’
With this new found thirst for the game, I doubt the mentally fragile but freshly confident world No. 5 Dementieva is relishing her second-round match up with the notoriously cool Belgian. Despite winning convincingly against the battling Williams sisters in Doha and the Sydney International tournament, impressing critics with her stoic displays, it is evident she has some niggling insecurities to triumph over in order to win her first Grand Slam here in Australia. The fact that she openly admitted having to remind herself ‘she’s just like you, you know, she can be nervous’ regarding her opponent Venus Williams, reveals how she clearly suffers at the hands of a rather damaging inferiority complex against Grand Slam champions, which could play a significant role in the way this second round match will play out.
It remains to be seen whether Wednesday January 22nd at 19:00 local time will signify a turning point in women’s tennis and the most exciting match of the year so far. Millions of tennis fans will tune in to see whether Henin will manage to defuse Demenieva’s meticulously honed confidence with her steel, style and psychological strength. It will be fascinating to watch how the possible psychological advantage Henin may have over Dementieva will play out on Wednesday. This match could symbolize the beginning of an illustrious Grand Slam career for Dementieva or launch the return of the elusive Henin to the top of rankings once again. It’s certainly an intriguing encounter which should not be missed – set those alarms people, we’re in for a treat!