Carlos Rodriguez

JUSTINE HENIN IS SCINTILLATING

By Melina Harris

The Rod Laver arena witnessed a scintillating 7-5, 7-6(8-6) win for comeback queen, Justine Henin over world No. 5 Elena Dementieva Wednesday. The match could signify the dawn of a new age for women’s tennis and possibly a coronary for Dementieva’s mother and coach, the omnipresent Vera who was uncomfortable to watch as she appeared to play every single shot for her gutsy daughter.

With US Open champion Kim Clijsters and the uber-talented former world No. 1 Henin back with a vengeance, the women’s tour has never held so much promise and wide spread appeal. This year’s Australian Open is panning out to be a classic for the WTA, undoubtedly helped by unseeded wild card Henin’s random placement in amongst the top seeds in the mouth-watering bottom half of the draw, which provided a second-round battle worthy of a final.

In my preview, I debated Dementieva’s mental fortitude which was sorely tested by Henin throughout. However, I do not believe Henin’s victory was down to a lack of fight from the Russian, who displayed admirable gut and determination to push Henin to the brink and back time and time again in this hotly contested second round match, rather it was Henin’s relentless resolution to come forward when playing the big points which caused the upset, marking her out as a true champion.

In her first tournament back in Brisbane, Henin fell at the last hurdle failing to close out the match against Clijsters by pressing too hard for victory, displaying a possible chink in her come back preparation.

However, today’s performance quashed any remaining doubt that Henin is ready to compete at the same level at which she left the game 20 months ago. Henin’s coach and mentor Carlos Rodriguez interestingly underestimated his diminutive pupil’s prospects in a recent interview with The Sunday Times prior to the Open, stating cautiously ‘I am not expecting her to be back at her best at the Australian Open or maybe a few months after that’ and expressed his surprise at her reaching the final in Brisbane because ‘she’s not certain about her game yet. Sometimes she’s too defensive, other times she goes on the attack when it is not wise. But those things come with time and matches. So far she has only played five.’

Perhaps this was a psychological tactic to relieve the pressure from Henin’s petite shoulders or a genuine miscalculation by the contemplative coach? Whatever the case may be, Rodriguez must be delighted with her swift progress which has shot her into contention at the Australian Open like a lightning bolt over the Rod Laver Arena, illuminating the women’s game with her unique style in comparison to the one dimensional baseliners who have dominated thus far.

Concerns about Henin’s serve, which Rodriguez cleverly modeled on the biomechanics of the Minnesota Viking’s quarterback, American NFL football star, Brett Favre were magnified in the first set, when Henin threw in six double faults. She often had to catch her first throw up which frequently veered disturbingly to the right, suggesting a possible lack of confidence in her new technique. However, by the second set as she got into her stride, those double faults reduced down to just two in a long and hotly contested set, with her first serve percentage at 48% in contrast to Dementieva’s at 65% across the total 2 hours and 50 minutes.

From the offset, the momentum of the match swung from side to side like a ship caught in a storm. In the first set, Dementieva’s depth and relentless pace of shot raged against Henin’s touch and variety resulting in copious break points for the Russian. At 5-4 with two set points for Dementieva, Henin produced a great drop volley to save the first and then constructed a brilliant point, resulting in a forehand approach and backhand volley winner to bring the game back to deuce to save the second. Henin broke back with an audacious drop volley leveling the set at 5 all.

In the following game, Henin matched Dementieva shot for shot by producing deeper and more penetrating ground strokes. A gutsy movement forward with a convincing volley at the net, secured a 6-5 lead. Indeed, it was her intuitive awareness of when to move forward to finish the point which pegged her back level at 30 all in the next game, which she then went on to win with an impressive forehand, hit on the rise, following a powerful first serve at deuce.

Dementieva opened the second set with another difficult hold of serve and followed with what appeared to be the beginnings of an impressive fight back, breaking Henin in the second game. However, with the grace of a ballet dancer Henin passed Dementieva at the net in the next point and went on to force a double fault from the uncharacteristically stoic Russian on break point.

Henin produced a magnificent game, maneuvering the Russian with deft precision around the court at 2-1 down to level the set at 2 all. Dementieva won two games in a row and appeared to have the upper hand as she went 4-2 up in the second. However, the tides turned once again as Henin went for the jugular and won the next three games to go 5-4 up, but lost her first match point in the next service game with a tight forehand into the net. Sensing Henin’s nerves, Dementieva took advantage and secured the break with a punishing backhand down the line.

At 5 all, Henin broke the Russian’s serve once again to set up yet another opportunity to serve out the match. While the crowd’s cheers reached a deafening crescendo, Rodriguez motioned animatedly to Henin radiating positivity and determination, while in contrast Dementieva’s mother and coach looked unnervingly at her daughter and then as if she were praying to the Gods for help.

Rodriguez must have been concerned (even if his face was a picture of confidence) as Henin once again failed to close out the match seemingly straining a quad muscle while serving. An impressive fight back from Dementieva secured the break to take the second set to a mouth watering tie break.

Despite racing to a 3-1 lead, Dementieva succumbed to Henin’s variety of shot and willingness to risk all on the important points (possibly in fear of a punishing third set) and like a true champion won the match on a serve volley; glaringly symbolic of what women’s tennis has been missing since her retirement from the game.

Henin is destined to meet Clijsters in the quarter finals (if they both proceed as predicted) in a repeat of the recent Brisbane final. What another great advert this would be for the women’s game and also as evidence for their inclusion in the proposed Tennis World Cup if the stars contrive to place these brilliant Belgian rivals together once again.

Justine Needs To Comeback, For Her Own Sake

The Belgian media have recently been speculating that former world No. 1 Justine Henin is preparing for a return to professional tennis at the beginning of next year. Henin, who will compete in an exhibition in Dubai this December, has denied the rumors through her former coach, Carlos Rodriguez.

However, based on her recent forays into the workforce outside of tennis via acting, singing, and as a television presenter, we hope she hasn’t truly quit her day job.

Acting

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x98c22_justine-henin-dans-plus-belle-la-vi_sport

Singing

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xE-wMeWqP0&feature=PlayList&p=A30ECF7B2FB157AD&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=14

Television Presenter

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5gS1i3a_hQ

Justine Henin Making A Comeback?

After Kim Clijsters, apparently Justine Henin is also on her way back to the WTA Tour, according to according Belgian newspaper Vers l’Avenir.

Wrote Vers l’Avenir based on various sources “Her decision to make a comeback is almost definitive. As of January, 2010 “Juju” will be back on the tour.”

Henin has started to train again. Officially she is preparing for the exhibition matches in Charleroi and Dubai later this year.

Carlos Rodriguez, former coach of Henin, said on the Belgian radio RTBF that he doesn’t believe the rumours.

“There is nothing that indicates a comeback. We have never talked about that. I am really surprised,” said the Argentinan coach.

He did confirm that Henin is training for the exhibition matches in Dubai and Charleroi at the end of 2009.

“She is currently training,” he said. “Two, three times a week to get back in shape. She hasn’t played tennis in a year.”

Mondays With Bob Greene: I thought I took all the right decisions today

STARS

Roger Federer beat Rafael Nadal 6-4 6-4 to win the Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open men’s singles in Madrid, Spain

Dinara Safina beat Caroline Wozniacki 6-2 6-4 in Madrid, Spain, to win the women’s singles at the Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open.

Marc Gicquel beat Mathieu Montcourt 3-6 6-1 6-4 to win the BNP Paribas Primrose Bordeaux in Bordeaux, France

SAYING

“I thought I took all the right decisions today. In the end it was a perfect game for me. (You) stay positive and I did. I got the win I needed badly.” – Roger Federer, after beating Rafael Nadal.

“There are no positives, there is little to analyze. He broke and broke and I went home.” – Rafael Nadal, after losing to Roger Federer.

“I’m very disappointed I can play this well and still not win a match.” – Novak Djokovic, after losing to Rafael Nadal in the semifinals.

“Since I became No. 1 I’m playing better and better.” – Dinara Safina, after winning the Madrid Open women’s title.

“I don’t want anybody telling me all the time what to do. I want to do my own thing. I’m more relaxed, easy going. I’m not worried too much. If it goes my way, fine. If not, I’ll keep trying.” – Svetlana Kuznetsova, who hired Larisa Savchenko as her new coach.

“After a few weeks of training I got the hunger back. I felt really good and wanted the challenge to see if I can still be up there (competing on the tour).” – Kim Clijsters, a former top-ranked player who will return to the WTA Tour in August.

“It’s going to be a challenge but she seems really determined. She has the talent and the tennis. I really think she can do it.” – Steffi Graf, on Kim Clijsters rejoining the WTA Tour.

“It is truly a page that has been turned. It was 20 years of my life. Now life is something different.” – Justine Henin, saying she will not follow Kim Clijsters in returning to the WTA Tour.

“Sometimes it’s hard to fully accept change in some respects. It’s an exciting change, it’s an asset for fans and for players.” – Andre Agassi, about the roof over Wimbledon’s famed Centre Court.

“That’s saying something when this is already the best and most famous court in the world, but I’m intrigued to see what level the atmosphere might go to. Given the right scenarios with the right match and players, it could be really something.” – Tim Henman, on the new roof covering Wimbledon’s famed Centre Court.

“The small amounts gambled (and) the absence of influence of the bets on the matches in question.” – The Court of Arbitration for Sport, announcing the reason that the suspension of Mathieu Montcourt for betting on matches has been reduced from eight to five weeks.

SUCCESS AT LAST

Roger Federer ended his five-match losing streak to his top rival when he shocked Rafael Nadal in the final of the Madrid Open. That stretch included the finals at Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the Australian Open. Calling his first win over Nadal since the 2007 Masters Tennis Cup “very satisfying,” Federer now trails in their head-to-head meetings 7-13. It was the 16th time the two have played for a title, with Nadal winning 11 times. Only Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe have met in more finals among the men: 20. And it was only the second time that Federer has beaten Nadal on clay. The Swiss star is the only player ranked in the top 10 to have ever beaten Nadal on the surface.

SETTLING UP

Organizers of the Dubai Tennis Championships have agreed to pay a USD $300,000 fine assessed against the tournament when Israel’s Shahar Peer was not allowed to enter the country. The WTA Tour board rejected Dubai’s appeal of the record fine, which was more than twice as much as the previous highest. The United Arab Emirates refused to grant Peer a visa just before she was due to arrive at the Dubai tournament in February. The WTA Tour also demanded that any Israeli players who qualify for the 2010 tournament must receive visas at least eight weeks before the tournament. “I just say that it’s a shame that Shahar could not compete in the tournament because she has nothing to do with the politics – she’s a tennis player,” said top-ranked Dinara Safina.

STRAIGHT IN

Emilie Loit and five other Frenchwomen have been awarded wild cards for direct entry into the main draw at this year’s Roland Garros. The French Open begins on May 24 in Paris. Claire Feuerstein, Kinnie Laisne, Kristina Mladenovic, Irena Pavlovic and Olivia Sanchez will be joined by American Lauren Embree and Australian Olivia Rogowska in receiving wild cards from the French Tennis Federation. Given wild cards into the women’s qualifying draw were Chloe Babet, Simona Halep, Florence Haring, Violette Huck, Karla Mraz, Laura Thorpe, Aurelie Vedy and Stephanie Vongsouthi.

STYLISH RETURN

Kim Clijsters made a splash when she helped inaugurate the new roof over Wimbledon’s Centre Court. After Clijsters and Tim Henman teamed up to win a mixed doubles challenge against Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi, Clijsters beat Graf 6-4 and earned a standing ovation from the crowd for the quality of tennis. “I had started practicing again, but I was really out of shape and I didn’t want to embarrass myself,” said Clijsters, who has married and had a child since she retired from the sport. “About four weeks into training I felt I would like to compete again on tour. Since then I have been training really hard.”

SEX AND TENNIS

Anna Kournikova wants to get away from her sexy tennis star image – at least somewhat. The Russian, who works for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and the Cartoon Network, says she is driven to get kids more involved in sports and exercise. Kournikova began her professional tennis career at the age of 14. And while many think of her as the sexy tennis player, she was ranked as high as eighth in the world in singles and won two Grand Slam tournament doubles titles, partnering with Martina Hingis. While she has not played on the WTA Tour since 2003, Kournikova participates in World Team Tennis and occasionally plays exhibitions. And she hasn’t abandoned modeling. “You’ve got to have some kind of income,” Kournikova said.

SPOT FOR GAUDIO

Gaston Gaudio of Argentina will be playing at Roland Garros again. Gaudio, who won the French Open in 2004, was granted a wild card for this year’s tournament. The 30-year-old right-hander last won a tournament at Kitzbuhel, Austria, in 2005. Once ranked fifth in the world, Gaudio has dropped to 395th in the world rankings.

SIDELINED

It was a doubleheader at the Madrid Open when both Philipp Kohlschreiber and Nikolay Davydenko pulled out of the tournament. Both players said they had injured their left leg and had to withdraw. Kohlschreiber was facing Rafael Nadal in his next match, while Davydenko was scheduled to face Andy Roddick. Both Nadal and Roddick moved into the quarterfinals with walkovers.

SEE, ME TOO

Roland Garros is playing follow the leader, with officials saying the French Open will have a new center court with a retractable roof in place by 2013 or 2014. Wimbledon will have a retractable roof on its Centre Court for the first time at this year’s tournament. The retractable roof-covered stadium in Paris was supposed to be ready for the 2012 Olympics, but it was delayed when France failed to get the Games. Jean Gachassin, president of the French Tennis Federation (FFT), said the future of Roland Garros depends on it getting the roof. “The goal is to have an outdoor stadium that can be covered, instead of an indoor stadium that can be uncovered,” said Marc Mimram, the head architect for the project. The Australian Open has two courts with roofs, while organizers of the US Open are considering building a roof over its main court, Arthur Ashe Stadium.

STOP IT

Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf say their names and trademarks are being used on Web sites without their permission. The two, who are married, have filed separate cyber squatting claims in federal court. Agassi claims that the domain names andre-agassi.com, andre-agassi.net and andre-agassi.info have been registered. Graf says steffigraf.com, steffigraf.net and steffigraf.info have been registered without her consent. Both Agassi and Graf are seeking ownership of the domain names.

SUSPENSION SHORTENED

When he finally serves his suspension for betting on matches, Mathieu Montcourt will only miss five weeks on the ATP tour instead of eight weeks. And he will be able to compete at both Wimbledon and the US Open this summer. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) noted the 24-year-old Montcourt bet a total of USD $192 on 36 different tennis events, but none on his own matches or at tournaments where he was playing. Citing “the small amounts gambled (and) the absence of influence of the bets on the matches in question,” the CAS reduced Montcourt ban to five weeks, starting July 6. The Frenchman was a finalist this past week at the BNP Paribas Primrose Bordeaux where he lost to Marc Gicquel 3-6 6-1 6-4 in Bordeaux, France.

STAYING RETIRED

Just because she has picked up a racquet and hit with longtime coach Carlos Rodriguez, Justine Henin says she has no plans to un-retire like fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters. “I hasten to add, just to improve my condition and stay healthy,” Henin said of the practice. A year after she surprised the world by retiring while ranked number one in the world, Henin says she still feels the pain of competitive tennis every day. “If it is not the knee, it is the shoulder,” she said. The seven-time Grand Slam tournament champion is now a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, earlier this year visiting eastern Congo, and is appearing on Belgian television in a show titled “12 works of Justine Henin.”

SCRAPPING TENNIS PROGRAMS

In cost-cutting moves, two American colleges have dropped their tennis programs. Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Indiana, suspended indefinitely its tennis programs affected 12 student-athletes, seven men and five women, as well as coach Malik Tabet and assistant coach Martha Montoya. Athletic director Ron Prettyman said he had to cut USD $350,000 from his budget. The university says it will honor all scholarships for the 2009-2010 school year for tennis players who want to stay at ISU, while those who want to transfer will be able to play at other schools.

At Southeastern Louisiana in Hammond, Louisiana, the men’s tennis team was cut because of the budget. Officials said the move to drop the 10-player squad was because next year’s proposed state budget calls for chopping millions of dollars from public universities. Southeastern plans to retain men’s tennis coach Jason Hayes, who also oversees the women’s team, which for now will be spared.

The University of La Verne in Southern California won’t drop its women’s tennis team after all. Two weeks after announcing it was dropping the sport temporarily, the women’s program has been reinstated. The biggest problem at the La Verne, California, school – located 35 miles east of downtown Los Angeles – was the lack of a facility since the school turned the courts into a parking lot in 2007. But the school worked out a deal to use the facilities at The Claremont Club during the spring, making it possible for the school to keep its program. The men’s tennis program, however, remains on hiatus with no definitive timetable for its return.

SHARED PERFORMANCES

Madrid (men): Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic beat Simon Aspelin and Wesley Moodie 6-4 6-4

Madrid (women): Cara Black and Liezel Huber beat Kveta Peschke and Lisa Raymond 4-6 6-3 10-6 (match tiebreak)

Bordeaux: Pablo Cuevas and Horacio Zeballos beat Xavier Pujo and Stephane Robert 4-6 6-4 10-4 (match tiebreak)

SITES TO SURF

Dusseldorf: www.arag-world-team-cup.com/

Kitzbuhel: www.atpkitz.at

Warsaw: www.warsawopen.com.pl/

Strasbourg: www.internationaux-strasbourg.fr/

Paris: www.rolandgarros.com/index.html

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

(All money in USD)

ATP

$490,000 Interwetten Austrian Open, Kitzbuhel, Austria, clay

$1,800,000 ARAG ATP World Team Championships, Dusseldorf, Germany, clay

WTA

$600,000 Warsaw Open, Warsaw, Poland, clay

$220,000 Internationaux de Strasbourg, Strasbourg, France, clay

SENIORS

Grand Champions Brazil, Sao Paulo, Brazil, hard

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

ATP and WTA

Roland Garros, Paris, France, clay (first week)

Ask Bill: Remembering Justine

Justine Henin was our sport’s Maggie Fitzgerald. Recall the academy award winning film “Million Dollar Baby” Well, Maggie Fitzgerald was the undersized, high-achieving, hard luck protagonist. She was tougher than nails, both inside and outside of the boxing ring. Justine Henin was similarly tough, although she was not a fictitious character made in Hollywood.

There are two stories that I will always remember about the diminutive Belgian. The 2003 US Open was marred by rainy weather. It played havoc with the scheduling, and the tournament was barely able to end on schedule. On Friday night, under the lights of Ashe Stadium, Henin battled the popular Jennifer Capriati for a US Open women’s record three hours and three minutes. The match was fraught with tension, twists, and turns. Capriati desperately wanted to win her national championship and fought like a champion. She came within two points of winning the match an astonishing 11 times. Henin battled from one set down, through cramps, a biased crowd, and her own nerves to prevail in a third set tiebreaker around midnight.

After the match, Jennifer Capriati wailed to the long-time locker room attendant Gloria Beckford: “Why!?!?!?” Even lovely Gloria could not console Capriati. Nearby, Henin was slumped on a table in the trainer’s room, receiving fluids intravenously to treat her severe dehydration.

In the City That Never Sleeps, Henin did not emerge from the locker room until the wee hours of the morning. The buzz around the grounds the next day was that she would not be able to answer the bell for the final against countrywoman Kim Clijsters, who was ranked number 1 at the time. This was a problem on many levels, including the fact that CBS Sports had gambled (and invested heavily) by having the women’s final televised during the evening’s prime time for the second consecutive year. A final round withdrawal would have ruined this goodwill, to say the least. Refunding tickets for a default would have also been financially catastrophic to the tournament.

The next afternoon when Henin arrived at Flushing Meadows with coach Carlos Rodriguez and physical trainer Pat Etcheberry, she went through some “warm up” exercises. She spent time doing plyometrics, strength and balance work on the swiss ball, catching and throwing medicine balls, and some running. Her “warm up” session would rival an offseason workout for most players. She would play!

The match was an anticlimax, and the favored Clijsters never really had a chance. Winning with guile and grit, Henin beat her rival in straight sets. Within 24 hours, she went from a doubtful starter to the US Open champion.

This spring, my wife and our baby boy took a trip to the south of France. I needed to go on a pilgrimage to the Monte Carlo Country Club, to see first-hand where Bjorn Borg used to practice. I knew it would be good karma for our baby, who is stuck with two tennis-mad parents.

When we arrived, I saw Justine, her coach Carlos Rodriguez, and a sparring partner drilling on an outside court. Henin was doing exhausting intervals and working on perfecting the forehand that had already delivered her four titles at Roland Garros. To my horror, my wife hopped out of the car with the baby and ran to courtside. “Bonjour Justine! Our baby loves you!” I hid in the car, dying of embarrassment and thinking the worst. Instead of reacting angrily (or being frightened!), Justine sweetly said “Bonjour baby. He is so cute…” I apologized quickly to Carlos (who pretended not to mind) and peeled away in our rental car.

In a few years time, when we visit the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island as a family, it will be a story that I can always share with our son. “Remember when you met Justine Henin when she was ranked No. 1 in the world…?” I can only hope that he hits his backhand as Henin did hers.

Like Maggie Fitzgerald, Justine Henin has chosen to leave on her own terms. Thankfully, her decision was a happier one than the wounded Hollywood boxer. I suspect that, like most boxers (and an increasing number of tennis players), she will embark on a “comeback.” Regardless, she is a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer and remains shoulder-to-shoulder with Serena Williams as the best player of her generation.

Adieu Justine!


Mondays with Bob Greene: Nadal Beats Federer in Hamburg

STARS

Rafael Nadal defeated Roger Federer 7-5 6-7 (3) 6-3 to win the Hamburg Masters in Hamburg, Germany.

Jelena Jankovic defended her Italian Open title by beating Alize Cornet 6-2 6-2 in Rome

Michael Stich beat Marc-Kevin Goellner 6-2 7-6 (4) to win the BlackRock Tour of Champions in Hamburg, Germany.

Eduardo Schwank beat Igor Kunitsyn 6-2 6-2 to win a $132,523 ATP Challenger event in Bordeaux, France.

Gael Monfils beat Jeremy Chardy 7-6 (2) 7-6 (6) to win a $132,523 ATP Challenger event in Marrakech, Morocco.

SAYINGS

“I am happy that I won and that I beat the number one in the world (Roger Federer) and the best player of the year (Novak Djokovic), and that should give me some more confidence for the French Open.” – Rafael Nadal, after beating both Djokovic and Federer en route to winning at Hamburg.

“I wish I could have won today, then I would have an even better feeling.” – Roger Federer, after losing to Nadal in the Hamburg final.

“My goal and dream is to become Number One in the world, and at the moment I think I’m on the right track. If I continue like this, I have a big chance.” – Jelena Jankovic, who beat qualifier Alize Cornet in the Rome final.

“Right now I’m just disappointed. I couldn’t do my best tennis today because of my physical condition, because I was tired because of my six matches before.” -Alize Cornet, who came through qualifying before losing in the final in Rome.

“I think we have a great future … I’m looking forward now to Roland Garros. I think this is a great boost.” – Nenad Zimonjic, who teamed with Daniel Nestor to win the doubles at the Hamburg Masters, beating twins Bob and Mike Bryan in the final.

“I had a lot of great opportunities, and I made a lot of opportunities for myself. But then I made a mistake.” – Venus Williams, after losing to Jelena Jankovic at Rome.

“I really struggled with my intensity today, and obviously that caused a lot of errors. It’s something I have to work on. Now I have ten days to prepare for the French Open.” – Ana Ivanovic, after losing early at Rome.

“I don’t expect this to cause any problems with my preparation for the French. It just happened all of a sudden.” – Serena Williams, who pulled out the Italian Open when her back froze up while warming up for her quarterfinal match.

SAYONARA

In a shocking end to a short but highly successful career, Justine Henin retired from tennis while ranked number one in the world. The 25-year-old Belgian has won seven Grand Slam singles titles in her career and 10 tournaments in 2007. She had been in a slump this year, her last title coming at her home tournament in Antwerp, Belgium, in February. Henin’s retirement came just one year after another Belgian, Kim Clijsters, retired from the sport at the age of 23. Clijsters had won a Grand Slam title and had also reached the number one ranking.


SPECIAL LADY

“I thought long about this. I started thinking about it late last year. I was at the end of the road. I leave with my head held high.” – Justine Henin, announcing her immediate retirement from tennis.

“It is rare that an athlete leaves at the very top of her game in this day and age, but Justine has always played by her own rules.” – Larry Scott, WTA Tour chief executive.

“Justine is an extraordinary player, a special person and a true champion in both tennis and in life.” – Billie Jean King.

“Her victory at the 2004 Athens Olympics was Belgium’s only gold medal at the Games and we are sorry that she won’t be able to defend her title in Beijing.” – Francesco Ricci Bitti, International Tennis Federation (ITF) president.

“It is a new beginning for me. I feel like I already lived three lives. I gave the sport all I could and took everything it could give me.” – Justine Henin.

“I couldn’t imagine deciding out of the blue to retire, especially if I was number one. I would prefer to take a year off if it was all getting too much for me.” – Roger Federer.

“She gave me a world of trouble.” – Serena Williams.

“She’s 25 years old and she’s achieved so much in her career. If I was 25 and I’d won so many Grand Slams, I’d quit too.” – Maria Sharapova.

“I take this decision without the least bit of regrets. It is my life as a woman that starts now.” – Justine Henin.

“It can sometimes be very difficult, many years playing and traveling around the world. Being there, being at the top, can be very difficult. We will miss her.” – Jelena Jankovic.

“She was a great champion. She always challenged herself to play her best tennis no matter what the circumstances. She was just a real fighter.” – Venus Williams.

“(Tennis loses) another champion. She was a great player and she achieved so much. She bought a lot to the women’s game.” – Ana Ivanovic.

“I don’t understand it. She was number one and she retires … Maybe it’s a woman thing. I don’t understand women.” – Goran Ivanisevic.

“It’s a lot of pressure to keep playing at that level. Certain players, like Bjorn Borg, retired early, and you can’t blame them.” – Pat Cash.

“She was one of the most complete players of the last 10 years, winning seven Grand Slams. She was small compared to the other girls, but she had a very complete game. She made up for her size with her tennis.” – Michael Stich.

“At the end of the match in Berlin, (retirement) all of a sudden was there as something evident. I decided to stop fooling myself and accept it.” Justine Henin.

“She never craved fame and money. All she wanted to do was play and win.” – Carlos Rodriguez, Justine Henin’s coach.

“This is the end of a child’s dream.” – Justine Henin.

SITTING ON TOP

Due to circumstances not of her own making, Maria Sharapova is sitting on top of women’s tennis today. When Ana Ivanovic failed to reach the final of the German Open, the Serb lost her world number two ranking to Sharapova, who at the time had not played since losing a match in April. Then, when Justine Henin shocked the sport by announcing her immediate retirement, Henin was replaced as number one in the world by Sharapova.

SURGES

Rafael Nadal became only the third player since 1990 to win the three ATP Masters Series clay-court tournaments in the same year, joining Gustavo Kuerten and Marcelo Rios, when he defeated Roger Federer in Hamburg, Germany. A year ago, Federer had won Hamburg while snapping Nadal’s 81-match winning streak. This year, Federer took a 5-1 lead in the first set, only to see Nadal win six consecutive games. Federer led the second set 5-2 before Nadal rallied, forcing the world’s number one player into a tiebreak, which Federer won. It was Nadal who jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the third set before finally winning the match 7-5 6-7 (3) 6-3. Since April 2005, Nadal has won 108 of 110 matches on clay.

SIZZLING WEEK

Alize Comet came out of qualifying to reach her first Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Tier One final at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. And while she lost the title match to defending champion Jelena Jankovic, Comet became only the second qualifier to reach a Tour singles final this year. The Frenchwoman, at 18 years, 3 months, had been seeking to become the youngest Tour champion this year. The first female qualifier to reach the final at the Foro Italico in the Open Era, Comet beat third-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova before fifth-seeded Serena Williams withdrew from the quarterfinals with a back problem. Comet then advanced with a semifinal win over sixth-seeded Anna Chakvetadze.

SURVIVE FIRE

Twins Sanchai and Sonchat Ratiwatana of Thailand, with wet towels wrapped around their faces, helped the wife and son of Argentine doubles specialist Lucas Arnold Ker escape a smoky fire that broke out on the third floor of the tournament hotel in Bordeaux, France. The twins, top-seeded in the doubles in the Challenger Series tournament, fell in the quarterfinals to Tomasz Bednarek and Dusan Vemic 6-2 7-6 (5). South Africa’s Rik De Voest fled the fire by crawling on his hands and knees. Argentine Eduardo Schwank, whose room was destroyed in the blaze, lost his passport, equipment, clothes, laptop computer and his Rome Challenger winner’s prize money in the fire. Schwank went on to win the Bordeaux tournament.

SOME WEEK

First, Maria Sharapova reached a compromise with the WTA Tour and did a promotional photo shoot before the Italian Open began. The women’s tour had threatened to fine her $300,000 if she refused. Then the Russian pulled out of the semifinals at Rome because of a strained left calf, but said the injury wouldn’t affect her preparations for the French Open. And, thanks to a series of events, Sharapova wound up the week as the number one player in the world.

SAMPRAS DEBUT DELAYED

Pete Sampras won’t make his debut on the BlackRock Tour of Champions circuit until June 19, one month than originally scheduled. That’s because the senior event in Sao Paulo, Brazil, was changed until next month.

SANIA OUT?

India’s top player, Sania Mirza, may be forced to skip the French Open. Her father, Imran Mirza, said his 21-year-old daughter, currently ranked number 33 in the world, has not yet fully recovered from wrist surgery performed in April. The 21-year-old Sania is expected to return to the tour at the $200,000 DES Classic in Birmingham, England, next month.

STRAIGHT IN

When Anne Keothavong won an International Tennis Federation tournament in Jounieh, Lebanon, she ended up qualifying for Wimbledon. The tournament title boosted Keothavong up to number 104 in the world rankings, enough for her to become the first British woman to automatically qualify for Wimbledon since 1999. “I thought I was going to withdraw from the tournament because of all the problems in Lebanon,” Keothavong said. “I was ready to get on a bus to Syria, but five minutes before I was due on court for my quarterfinal they told us that the border was closed and there was no way out.” The rest is history.

STILL SWINGING

Once ranked as high as number four in the world, Jelena Dokic won her second consecutive tournament on the comeback trail. Dokic beat Patricia Mayr 6-3 6-1 to capture a $25,000 clay-court event in Caserta, Italy. The week before, Dokic won a $25,000 tournament on clay in Florence, Italy.

SWISS FLAG

Roger Federer wants to celebrate his 27th birthday on August 8 by carrying the Swiss flag in the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympic Games. “It’s my birthday on the day of the opening ceremony,” Federer said. “Maybe I will carry the flag again for Switzerland. I’d be very honored.”

SPOTLIGHT UNDER THE LIGHTS

The Australian Open women’s singles final will be played at night starting next year. The men’s singles title match has been a night event since 2005. Defending champion Maria Sharapova says the cooler conditions at night will make for a better match. The U.S. Open women’s singles title match is also held at night.

SPECIAL INVITATION

Ending his career where he won three times, Gustavo Kuerten was given a wild-card entry into this year’s French Open. The Brazilian clay court specialist, once ranked number one in the world, won Roland Garros in 1997, 2000 and 2001. Other wild cards into the men’s draw went to French players Eric Prodon, Olivier Patience, Jeremy Chardy, Adrian Mannarino and Jonathan Eysseric. French players given spots in the women’s draw are Olivia Sanchez, Severine Bremond, Stephanie Foretz, Mathilde Johansson, Youlia Fedossova and Violette Huck. Other wild cards were won by Americans Madison Brengle and Wayne Odesnik, and Australians Robert Smeets and Samantha Stosur.

SPEAKING IN TONGUES

It’s a wonder members of the University of Arkansas women’s tennis team can speak to each other. The Lady Razorbacks include Aurelija Miseviciute of Lithuania, Audrey Bordeleau of Canada, Maryori Franco of Colombia, Ela Kaluder of Croatia, Nanar Airapetian of Germany, Delia Damaschin of Romania, Fien Maes of Belgium, Anouk Tigu of the Netherlands and Melissa Hoffmeister, who comes from Joplin, Missouri, about a 90-minute drive from the campus in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The coach is Michael Hegarty, a native of Australia.

SWITCHING BROADCASTERS

After a 25-year run, the USA Network is losing its US Open cable television coverage to ESPN and Tennis Channel, beginning in 2009. The six-year deal was announced by the U.S. Tennis Association. ESPN now owns TV rights to parts of all four Grand Slam tournaments. The broadcast network rights are still held by CBS, which has a contract through 2011. Besides the US Open, the new contract means ESPN2 will also be the lead cable carrier for the US Open Series, the circuit of hard-court tournaments leading up to the US Open.

SHOWING OFF

Florida drivers may be able to show their love for tennis in the near future. The Florida legislature passed a bill enabling drivers to support tennis through a new specialty license plate. The money raised from the sale of the plates would be used for grants to nonprofit organizations operating youth tennis programs and adaptive programs for special populations of all ages, as well as for building, renovating and maintaining quality public tennis facilities. The tennis plates, with the phrase “Play Tennis” on the bottom, should be available starting October 1.

SHARED PERFORMANCES

Doubles Champions

Hamburg: Nenad Zimonjic and Daniel Nestor beat Bob and Mike Bryan 6-4 5-7 10-8 (match tiebreak)

Rome: Chan Yung-Jan and Chuang Chia-Jung beat Iveta Benesova and Janette Husarova 7-6 (5) 6-3

Bordeaux: Diego Hartfield and Sergio Roitman beat Tomasz Bednarek and Dusan Vemic 6-4 6-4

Marrakech: Frederico Gil and Florin Mergea beat James Aukland and Jamie Delgado 6-2 6-3

SITES TO SURF

Duesseldorf: www.arag-world-team-cup.com

Poertschach: www.atppoertschach.info

Casablanca: www.frmtennis.com

Istanbul: www.istanbulcup.com

Strasbourg: www.internationaux-de-strasbourg.com

French Open (Roland Garros): www.rolandgarros.com/

French Tennis Federation: www.fft.fr/portail/

Maria Sharapova: www.mariasharapova.com

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

ATP

$1,500,000 ARAG ATP World Team Championship, Duesseldorf, Germany, clay

$576,866 The Hypo Group Tennis International 2008, Poertschach, Austria, clay

$576,866 Grand Prix Hassan II, Casablanca, Morocco, clay

WTA TOUR

$200,000 Istanbul Cup, Istanbul, Turkey, clay

$175,000 Internationaux de Strasbourg, Strasbourg, France, clay

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

ATP

$11,034,805 Roland Garros, Paris, France, clay

WTA TOUR

$10,891,368 Roland Garros, Paris, France, clay