Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Pursuit of Happiness

Maybe nice isn't so bad.

Of course, maybe Ana Ivanovic wouldn't agree about Justine Henin being such a welcoming host on her "home" court on Saturday in Paris. Not after the Belgian dispatched the Serbian teenager from the Roland Garros Women's Singles final 6-1/6-2 in barely an hour to become the first woman to win the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen three straight years since Monica Seles did so in 1992.

But, then again, AnaIvo played a big part in the decided lack of drama in the match. After breaking Henin to begin the match, then holding a 40-love lead on her own serve, the youngest member of the Fantastovics finally realized where she was -- in her first grand slam final, playing against the two-time defending champion in her tenth -- and allowed the nerves that she'd controlled for two weeks get the best of her. Once Henin scrambled to break back, on a net cord, it was only a matter of how long the match was going to last.

Ivanovic didn't hold her own serve until the tenth game of the match, which was but a brief respite from what has been the norm for Henin for most of the last five years at Roland Garros... a period of dominance that in many ways had its foundation set in place when a 10-year old Henin's mother accompanied her to Chatrier Court to watch Seles win that third straight title fifteen years ago. Three years later, Henin's mother died. Two years after that, 15-year old Justine won the junior title at Roland Garros. Six years later, she won her first grand slam title on the same court. And today she completed the cycle by matching Seles' feat of a three-peat by defeating a player born in Serbia... just like Seles.

It's almost as if this is how things were meant to be.

Henin's 2003-07 run in Paris has included four titles and a 29-1 record, with the only loss coming in the 2nd Round against Tathiana Garbin in 2004 when she was afflicted with the cytomegalovirus that has proved to be her biggest obstacle since she made her successful climb to the top of women's tennis... well, that and the long-held perception that she was long on ambition but short of the human elements that make champions "cherished." Even while winning, Henin's had to shrug off her lack of acceptance at the expense of her single-minded, sometimes-selfish forward march. Her remaining family members weren't an exception, as they couldn't or wouldn't understand the lengths she was willing to go to achieve her goals. Thus, for seven years, Henin found it easier to push her father, sister and two brothers away rather than find a way to compromise. It simply wasn't important enough.

Things have changed.

Oh, maybe she's not necessarily ready to transform herself into "Nice Justine" since the crash of her marriage in January, but Henin HAS reconnected with her father and siblings (the three were in the stands today to see her victory). At the very least, it's a sign that, at least off the court, Henin is seeking to find the peace and happiness that has often eluded her since her mother's death when the would-be Queen Justine was barely a teenager.

You could see all the emotions and accomplishments meet in the final, coming to fruition when Henin put away match point, threw up her racket and collapsed, head in hands, against the net.

In many ways, Henin's personal social foibles have managed to prevent her from being a sympathetic figure over the years, despite her charitable off-court work, and that she comes to Paris every year with the desire to win the title for the mother she lost and who's absence she is obviously still affected by.

Henin is still the best female claycourter in the world. She's still #1, and has reached the final of the last five grand slams in which she's participated. Could her small moves to seek happiness off the court, seemingly compatible with her on-court success if the extension of her Roland Garros reign is any indication, make this sixth career slam crown both a new beginning, as well as more of the same? Could this be the start of a point in her career after which she's not taken for granted, or discussed more for what she's NOT rather than what she IS? With the shadow of that other "nicer," but fewer-slam winning, Belgian now removed by marriage and retirement, could the "black-hatted" Henin the Survivor become Henin the Cherished?

Yeah, maybe that's asking for too much, huh?

When you think about it, though, Henin's literally been wearing a WHITE hat for most of her career... so maybe the symbolic evidence that she was never really that "bad" was there all along. She just had to find a way to get more people to realize it by being willing to budge -- just a little -- from her set-in-stone path. So far, so good.

Nice, Justine.

3...Jelena Jankovic
2...Serena Williams

Antwerp - Amelie Mauresmo, 2005-7
Dubai - Justine Henin, 2006-07

8...Serena Williams [3-1-2-2]
6...JUSTINE HENIN [1-4-0-1]
5...Venus Williams [0-0-3-2]
5...Martina Hingis [3-0-1-1]

6...Nadia Petrova [5/1]
5...Amelie Mauresmo [4/1]
5...Maria Sharapova [5/0]

7...Chris Evert, 1974-86
6...Steffi Graf, 1987-99
6...Suzanna Lenglen, 1920-26
5...Margaret Smith-Court
5...Adine Masson, 1897-03
4...JUSTINE HENIN, 2003-07
4...Jeanne Matthey, 1909-12
4...Helen Wills-Moody, 1928-32

4...Lisa Raymond
4...Samantha Stosur
4...Cara Black
4...Liezel Huber

Three more championships were decided on Day 14, as Mark Knowles & Daniel Nestor won their second career slam Men's Doubles title (to go along with their '02 Australian Open crown). Nestor also won the Mixed Doubles with Elena Likhovtseva in January.

In Junior Doubles, Thomas Fabbiano (ITA) & Andrei Karatchenia (BLR) won the Boys, while Ksenia Milevskaya (BLR) & Urszula Radwanska (POL) took the Girls.

TOP QUALIFIERS: Timea Bacsinszky & Ioana-Raluca Olaru
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): Justine Henin
TOP MID-ROUND (3r-QF): Justine Henin
TOP LATE ROUND (SF-F): Justine Henin
FIRST SEED OUT: #31 Severine Bremond (1r- M.Krajicek)
LAST QUALIFIERS STANDING: Dominika Cibulkova, Alla Kudryavtseva & Ioana-Raluca Olaru (all 3rd Rd.)
IT GIRL: Ana Ivanovic
DOUBLES STAR: Katarina Srebotnik
JUNIOR BREAKOUT: Mariana Duque Marino

All for now.


Blogger Eric said...

nice Roland Garros coverage Todd!!

Sun Jun 10, 02:02:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

And now I have two weeks of relative calm... and then start up another Daily Backspin run with Wimbledon.

Thanks. :)

Wed Jun 13, 02:50:00 AM EDT  

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