Justine Henin: From Tragedy to Triumph

Justine Henin: From Tragedy to Triumph

by Mark Ryan

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Overview

One of the best women tennis players of all time, Justine Henin's dazzling array of shots, combined with her immense personal courage, have earned her enormous respect among current players and former champions alike. Justine's success is all the more remarkable considering that off-court she has had to weather a series of family tragedies, a debilitating virus, the breakdown of her marriage and a seven-year feud with her father and brothers.

Now, with family bridges rebuilt, her tennis is reaching new heights, to bring her one Grand Slam title after another. Always thrilling to watch, Justine's breathtaking backhand, described by John McEnroe as ‘the best in the world – man or woman' is rivalled by a sensational forehand and razor-sharp volleying. Author Mark Ryan, who has good relations with the Henin family, knows the inside story of Justine's rise to the top – and what it almost cost her – better than any other sports journalist. His account is compelling, sensitive and a must for all tennis-lovers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429983228
Publisher: St. Martin''s Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/19/2008
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 647,258
File size: 910 KB

About the Author

MARK RYAN is a freelance writer and sports journalist with more than twenty years' experience in newspapers. He covered Wimbledon for the Mail on Sunday for many of those years. He has also known the Henin family since 2001. He lives in England.


MARK RYAN is a freelance writer and sports journalist with more than twenty years' experience in newspapers. He covered Wimbledon for the Mail on Sunday for many of those years. He has also known the Henin family since 2001. He lives in England.

Read an Excerpt

Justine Henin

From Tragedy to Triumph


By Mark Ryan

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2008 Mark Ryan
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-8322-8



CHAPTER 1

THE TEST


WHEN SHE KNEW HER MARRIAGE WAS DEAD, SELF-DOUBT took hold. One minute a confident Justine Henin could bask in the glory of being the toughest and the best, the next she had entered a nightmare so personally devastating that she wondered whether she would cope at all.

Maybe the latest crisis shouldn't have come as quite such a shock to Henin, who had learned early just how beautiful and cruel life could be. She had lost her mother before she was even a teenager, and yet she had bounced back to tame the giants of the game and climb to the top of the sporting world. In reaching such heights it appeared that she had left behind her own vulnerability.

Yet Justine's split from her husband, Pierre-Yves Hardenne, left her in a state of such turmoil at the start of 2007 that she pulled out of the Australian Open, one of only four Grand Slam events in the tennis calendar. For the number one player in the world, who needed to stay in the fight to keep her rivals at bay, such a public retreat spelt potential disaster. But this wasn't just about sport any more.

Hardenne, a skinny, high-cheeked young man who often appeared aloof and moody, had captured Justine's heart some eight years earlier, and had remained central to almost everything she had done since. As a troubled young woman, she had shunned her surviving family to be with the husband from whom she was now breaking away. No wonder the separation signalled the start of a confused, frightening time for Justine, and she knew she would need all her legendary courage just to stay afloat ...

The tennis world looked on. It seemed the complete player had an Achilles heel after all. The legendary Martina Navratilova had called her 'the female Federer'; she was the sensation whose backhand John McEnroe had described as 'the finest shot in the game — women's or men's'. But it was her inner steel that usually gave her the edge over her opponents; and now she seemed frail.

Justine's unmatchable passion and fighting spirit had always made up for her lack of height and weight. Billie Jean King, whose own fearsome approach had blazed the trail for the modern women's game, had once hailed her as 'pound for pound the best women's athlete I have ever seen'. Now Justine, who was less than five feet six inches tall and weighed in at just 126 pounds, seemed very vulnerable indeed. In public, at least, she tried to put on a brave face. 'I will return to you', she assured her fans, and they waited anxiously for more news.

Her supporters and those around her worried for Justine, and questioned whether she would be in a fit emotional state to defend her French title in May. Perhaps she would choose instead to take an indefinite break from the game, while she learned to cope with the grim prospect of divorce.

She sat down and grieved for her marriage as her rivals played the Australian Open without her. 'I didn't know if I was going to be able to overcome these problems,' she said later.

Justine faced her situation bravely. One great love of her life was gone, and there was no going back; but another remained, waiting patiently for her, and that other love was tennis. It had claimed a special place in her heart long before Pierre-Yves, and it was still there now, along with her coach and guru, Carlos Rodriguez. 'It was important to keep working, to keep busy, so tennis was like therapy,' she explained later.

Justine returned in February and played a tournament in Paris. She didn't win it, but soon she was playing with all her old determination. By March she was well on the way to a full recovery. Then, just when all seemed well, another powerful blow threw her off balance. While in Barcelona for the Laureus Sports Awards, she received a text from her sister, Sarah, warning that David Henin, her plump and sensitive elder brother, had been seriously injured in a car crash and was lying in a coma.

It had been seven years since Justine had enjoyed a normal, loving relationship with David; seven years since she had hugged her other brother, Thomas; seven years since she had publicly acknowledged her father, Jose. The dying wish of her mother, Francoise, had been that the family stayed together. But Justine believed that her own identity was at stake and felt unable to put her family first.

The last time David had spoken publicly about his estrangement from Justine had been prior to her Australian Open campaign of 2004. Then he had said: 'It's a shame that my sister is so heavily influenced by those around her. But we who have not been afforded the slightest contact for the last few years will continue to get up in the middle of the night to support her.'

A number of factors had contributed to Justine's decision to leave her family behind, stunned and embittered; but seven years later, with David at death's door, was anyone's grievance still powerful enough to warrant a continuation of the feud? That is what she had to weigh up when her sister Sarah broke the news about the accident. To drop everything and run to David's hospital bedside wasn't necessarily as straightforward as it seemed. Perhaps, during such a stressful time, some of her relatives might resent her presence. Maybe it would be better to wait. But to do that was equally risky, with David's life hanging in the balance.

Nothing enhances love like the fear that someone might be about to die. It was the sort of moment that must have made the Henin family wonder how on earth they had allowed their feud to continue for so long, and how they had come to draw such destructive battle lines between themselves in the first place.

CHAPTER 2

PIERRE-YVES AND THE DANCE


IN AUGUST 1998, A 16-YEAR-OLD JUSTINE HENIN WAS DUE to present the prize at an amateur tournament in her family's home village of Han-sur-Lesse. This Belgian backwater was famous for its spectacular caves, a hidden world beneath the gentle wooded hills that formed the gateway to the Ardennes. The tennis club was tucked away discreetly, a sideshow to the main tourist attraction. Jose Henin, larger than life in more ways than one, had officiated at the club in times gone by, and it was only natural that his daughter, a rising star in the tennis world, should be asked to present the trophy to the tournament winner. Word had it that Justine Henin might soon be as famous as the caves themselves, if only she could translate her stunning form from the junior to the senior circuit.

Pierre-Yves Hardenne, a local lad and a relative newcomer to the game, entered the Han-sur-Lesse competition for fun. It was the first time he had ever played in such a tournament. Amazingly, he won it. When Justine stepped up to congratulate the victor, who was more than a year older than she was, something about his broad, boyish smile caused her to return it with interest. Sparks flew as their eyes met and they both felt a pure joy, something akin to love at first sight.

The impact of that seismic moment would be felt by many others over time, and life would change for Justine and Pierre-Yves who, as their relationship developed into marriage, would take on the strength of the other. For a good number of years anyone who tried to get in their way would be given reason to wish they had not done so. Among those they left reeling in their wake were many members of Justine's own family, whom she blamed for not making Pierre-Yves feel more welcome. She would claim later: 'It was not Pierre-Yves my family didn't like. It was the thought of there being anyone in my life. But when I met Pierre-Yves, I thought, "At last, you can be happy."'

Happiness had seemed elusive since Justine's mother, Francoise, had died when the tennis-crazy child was just 12 years old. An increased sense of responsibility at home appeared to clash with Henin's sporting ambitions. In an interview in 2003, Justine explained: 'After my mother died it was never the same. It is wrong to say I became the mother of the family, because I didn't cook or anything like that. But I was mature very early and they all used to come to me with their problems, my two older brothers and my young sister. It became difficult. I lead a special life — I have to. But they didn't understand and then there were money problems and jealousy. It was impossible.'

Her family didn't agree with that analysis of the domestic dynamic. At the height of their feud, her father, Jose, hit back: 'Everything in the family was geared to Justine's success and the others suffered as a result. They don't complain now, only Justine. I don't try to claim I was a perfect father. I was depressed and put on weight, around twenty kilos. But I did my best when faced with difficult circumstances, and the other children understood what was happening to me. And through this, I always put Justine's career first. Everyone knows that.'

Her feisty brother Thomas was equally incensed by the attack: 'We were not jealous of Pierre-Yves and I didn't have any big showdown with Justine over it. For her to say that we didn't accept him, or came to her with our problems, just makes it easier for her to excuse her departure. She was young and we all had problems, the children and my father included.'

However, back in 2001, Justine's coach, Carlos Rodriguez, with whom most people credit Henin's climb to the summit of women's tennis, described Jose's and the family's attitude to his daughter like this: 'I don't know how to say it in English but he, the father, tried to appropriate her. They did not respect her needs. I saw what they were doing to her and I spoke up very quickly. We had many arguments, her father and I.'

The stakes were high in late 1998. Justine was about to turn professional, and already she looked capable of breaking into the elite group at the top end of the senior rankings. For years, most of the family income had been directed towards taking her where she wanted to be. The big sporting management agency International Management Group (IMG) had been on the scene for some time, taking care of many aspects of Justine's career. But Jose had escorted his daughter to tournaments, while his brother, Jean-Paul, had helped to finance her early career. Jose explained: 'It took a lot of money to finance Justine's tennis development over all those years. When we travelled we used to take just one bedroom, to save money. I used to pay half the bill, so it was actually cheaper for the Belgian Federation [who sponsored Justine] when I was there. Every month we paid a contribution for Carlos, and one for me to travel. We paid for the car and I personally drove about a thousand miles a week, taking Justine to tournaments or wherever else she needed to be. Then there was some tax to pay on the earnings as well, of course.'

As she began to earn good money, Jose thought it only fair that some of that outlay should be repaid to those within the family who had financed her tennis development in the first place or made sacrifices to help set her on the road to stardom; he also thought that his other children should benefit too, not least the 12-year-old Sarah, who had behaved so graciously as Justine's lifestyle on the junior circuit demanded the lion's share of her father's attention during her formative years. As far as her father was concerned, this wasn't 'appropriation' – how could it be when Justine was his daughter? – but simply the restoration of balance.

The arrival of Pierre-Yves on the scene, and the start of what seemed like a typical teenage love affair, threatened to put that process in doubt. Even so, Jose denied Justine's claim that her family didn't want Pierre-Yves or any other potential boyfriend in her life, insisting that it was quite the reverse, and that Pierre-Yves was in his house all the time.

The romance lasted through winter into spring, and Justine's performance on court showed no signs of suffering. By early summer and the 1999 French Open it seemed that, far from being a hindrance to Justine's career, Pierre-Yves might just prove to be an inspiration. Having gained entry as a qualifier, Henin won through her opener to face the highly ranked American Lindsay Davenport in the second round. No one gave Justine, not yet 17, the slightest chance against an established powerhouse such as Davenport, especially when she lost the first set 6-3. But when Justine hit back to take the second set 6-2, a watching John McEnroe could scarcely believe his eyes. 'It was incredible how she hit the ball,' he recalled later.

Henin wasn't done, even serving for the match at 5-4 in the third, but Davenport used her superior experience to show the coolest composure when it mattered, and eventually scraped through 7-5. While Justine was kicking herself, McEnroe knew he had seen something special. 'Few people are born with such potential,' he said simply. Before long, he had become Henin's number one celebrity fan, declaring: 'She is the player I most like to watch.'

Justine's fantastic showing prompted a double celebration when she got home, since 1 June was also her 17th birthday. At a party in a restaurant near the Han-sur-Lesse tennis club, Thomas and Justine danced uninhibitedly; and Pierre-Yves seemed to take exception. Thomas, who was slender and handsome in his twenties, recalled later: 'I was dancing with Justine that night and my girlfriend, Vanessa, was having a cigarette, off to the side. Pierre-Yves went up to her and pointed to us dancing. He asked her what she thought about it. She didn't know what he was talking about. But Pierre-Yves said that Justine was too close to me, and that the situation couldn't continue, he didn't like it. That's when our problems began.'

Had Pierre-Yves walked into Justine's life in 1996, 1997 or even in the first quarter of 1998, he might have had a reason to resent the strength of the bond between brother and sister. At that time Thomas had unselfishly put his own plans on hold to help make his sister's dreams come true. He had delayed his studies, so essential to his preferred career in banking, in order to live alongside Justine at a tennis academy, the Centre of Excellence in Mons, run by the Belgian Tennis Federation (or more precisely its French-speaking branch, the Association Francophone de Tennis). Thomas worked with all the children, but primarily he was there to make life easier for Justine, who was the only girl among all the hopefuls.

Then in April 1998 Thomas met Vanessa, and fell in love. As the months went by, he felt it was time to start thinking again of his own career. He said: 'I wanted my life back. I had been working with Justine and we were very close. But I told her in December 1998 that I wanted to work for myself now, that I could not go on escorting her on the professional circuit. She was very upset, but my position was this: life with her wasn't a job for me. I wanted to work in a bank and I did so. My life now was with Vanessa.'

So by the time of the party after the French Open in the early summer of 1999, a spontaneous dance between a brother and sister who still loved each other dearly shouldn't have given Justine's boyfriend cause for concern. Yet it obviously did and when Pierre-Yves sought to question Justine's relationship with Thomas, Jose naturally supported his son, as did Thomas's brother, David.

However, to Justine it looked as though Jose had made a clear choice in favour of his other children, against her. Jose revealed: 'Later Justine came and said "That was a big mistake, to choose David and Thomas instead of me and Pierre-Yves."' Jose would pay dearly for the stand he had made, on a number of levels.

It may have been Thomas who first clashed with Pierre-Yves but Jose wasn't very far behind. As he recalled: 'We were eating dinner one night and I told him that I thought it was important for him to think about a career for himself, and work out what he wanted to do in life. I said he should be his own man. He didn't like being given that advice one bit, and it was just the start of the tension between us. Yes, I was also annoyed that Justine wasn't giving much time to the family any more. And I may have feared that Pierre-Yves's increasing influence was going to undermine Justine's professionalism towards her tennis; but I was thinking of him too, when I said those things.'

Like many teenagers, Pierre-Yves refused to be told how to live his life. And Jose admitted that had he been in Pierre-Yves's shoes he might have reacted in exactly the same way. One of Jose's brothers, Jean-Marie, wasn't so understanding when his greeting to Pierre-Yves was thrown back in his face at around the same time.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Justine Henin by Mark Ryan. Copyright © 2008 Mark Ryan. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents

Title Page,
CHAPTER 1 - THE TEST,
CHAPTER 2 - PIERRE-YVES AND THE DANCE,
CHAPTER 3 - BRUTAL DIAMOND,
CHAPTER 4 - TIE-BREAK,
CHAPTER 5 - THE AFTERMATH,
CHAPTER 6 - ENGAGEMENT AND BEREAVEMENT,
CHAPTER 7 - ALPHONSE AND THE CHOKING HAZARD,
CHAPTER 8 - 'PAPY' GEORGES, NUMBER ONE FAN,
CHAPTER 9 - THE WAITING GAME,
CHAPTER 10 - THE TRAGIC SECRET,
CHAPTER 11 - GOODBYES AND HIGHS,
CHAPTER 12 - DEFINING FAMILY,
CHAPTER 13 - THE WEDDING,
CHAPTER 14 - BEYOND SPORT,
CHAPTER 15 - WINNING DIRTY, TALKING CLEAN,
CHAPTER 16 - FLORENCE AND THE FOOTBALL MATCH,
CHAPTER 17 - THE LEGACY,
CHAPTER 18 - A PROMISE TO MUM,
CHAPTER 19 - DEATH AND DESTINY,
CHAPTER 20 - A PROMISE TO KEEP,
CHAPTER 21 - THE MOMENT,
CHAPTER 22 - MATCH OF THE CENTURY,
CHAPTER 23 - GETTING EVEN,
CHAPTER 24 - THE DANGEROUS PEAKS,
CHAPTER 25 - SEEING IT OUT,
CHAPTER 26 - THE HARDEST GOLD,
CHAPTER 27 - HAT-TRICKS AND ROLLERCOASTERS,
CHAPTER 28 - THE SPLIT,
CHAPTER 29 - A CRASH-COURSE IN SALADS,
CHAPTER 30 - ONE FOR PAPA,
CHAPTER 31 - LITTLE BOYS AND LITTLE GIRLS,
CHAPTER 32 - JUSTINE AND STEFFI — TENNIS SISTERS,
CHAPTER 33 - THE MADRID MARATHON,
CHAPTER 34 - A LIFE TOO SHORT,
CHAPTER 35 - LOVE ALL,
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS,
POSTSCRIPT: THE END OF THE ROAD,
Copyright Page,

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Justine Henin: From Tragedy to Triumph 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Best bio ever!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book has a fairly good insight to the family issues that went on behind the scenes of Justine Henin's life. The author also details specifics about important matches in her life. Pretty good if your a fan of hers.