Justine Henin: China has huge potential in tennis
Updated: 2010-12-17 11:16
By Yu Yilei (China Daily European Weekly)
Justine Henin will prove her capability not only as a player but
Returning tennis ace Justine Henin recognized huge potential of a country she had not even visited
Seven-time Grand Slam winner Justine Henin opened a tennis academy in China to produce future stars - even before she set foot in the world's most populous country. The reason is simple: It is difficult to ignore China, which has displayed huge potential in the racquet sport that originated in the West, thanks to increasingly important Chinese women players.
"They (Chinese women's players) already gave me a lot of trouble," Henin says at the Renaissance Beijing Capital Hotel. "They are very consistent, have a good attitude on court, are hardworking, focused and determined."
At the Australian Open this year, the Belgian icon, who just returned to the sport after a 19-month layoff, entered the final where she was beaten by Serena Williams. The last match she won in Melbourne Park was against China's Zheng Jie in the semifinal. In the other semi, China's No 1 Li Na took on Williams, creating a new chapter in Chinese tennis history.
To be fair, Zheng, a Wimbledon semifinalist, did not cause too much trouble to Henin in a match which the Chinese player took only one game in the 6-1, 6-0 lop-sided contest. However, having two Chinese players in the semifinals of a Grand Slam event was significant enough for Henin to recognize the huge tennis potential in the country she had never visited.
Shortly after the Australian sojourn, her long-time coach Carlos Rodriguez set up a branch of her tennis academy, Six Sense, at the Potter's Wheel International Tennis Center in Beijing in February. The branch in Beijing is the third after Belgium (2007) and the United States (2008).
"The potential here is very, very high.
"I've seen big improvement in the Olympic Games so far and a lot of young and good players have come on the tour," the former world No 1 says. "Carlos told me he met very good people here. After the Beijing Olympics, Chinese tennis started to mature. This is a big country and this is a big opportunity. We just met the right people at the right time."
After a day with young Chinese players on the tennis court, Henin says she can feel the strong passion for the sport.
"I think they love tennis but the sport is pretty new (in the country). I saw very good kids; they want to learn. So it's just exciting to bring our philosophy on the sport."
"It's great that we can work together to promote tennis in China. With Carlos and the team, and the Chinese coaches, we look forward to long-term success. Trust us, we'll be great.
"I hope Chinese players will be world No 1s and win Grand Slams. I strongly believe in the future of China's tennis. That's why I am here."
This is the first time the Belgian is visiting China. The 28-year-old missed the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 - when she was in retirement at that time - and the latest edition of the China Open, a $4-million (3.03 million euros) top-tier WTA tour event where the top 50 players play. Henin missed the event because of elbow injury.
After passing tips to Chinese youngsters, Henin left Beijing Dec 15 for China's tropical island of Hainan for a two-week training session to prepare for the Hopman Cup in Australia.
She has not played since she injured her right elbow after slipping on the court during the fourth-round defeat by fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters at Wimbledon in July.
Further examinations later revealed a partial ligament fracture in Henin's elbow, causing her to end her 2010 season prematurely.
Henin admitted she was not fully fit for the physically demanding tour, to which she made a comeback in January, although she enjoyed a flying start in her brief return which saw her going into the finals of the first two tournaments she entered including the Australian Open. Before Wimbledon, she won two titles - in the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart and the UNICEF Open in the Netherlands.
"It's interesting that I had a pretty good start that I had not expected. But after playing tennis for 14 years, it's physically very hard for me to come back. I am just slowly coming back to the top," she says.
"And with the elbow injury I got in Wimbledon, it definitely became more difficult."
Henin had to postpone her latest comeback until she played an exhibition match with Clijsters in her home country recently. "It was a difficult summer. I injured my elbow; broke my ligament and I thought maybe it's over for me.
"Now the ligament is getting better but I have to work on a lot of elbow and my muscles. I have to trust my elbow again. It's suffered a lot and it has to be strong. But it will take several months to be 100 percent."
Despite the difficulties, Henin believes she is on the right direction and has a good opportunity to find back her past glory.
"Step by step, I am in a good direction now. But only winning matches can give me that confidence. It is not easy to come back physically but I have been working very hard in the first six months. If my elbow gets better in the next weeks or months, I think I have some good opportunities in the future."
Her next Grand Slam is also in sight.
"It is too early to talk about ambition after injury. If I am physically fine, I hope I can win another Grand Slam.
"Wimbledon or another Grand Slam. But Wimbledon would be fantastic," says Henin, when asked whether she prefers to win the Wimbledon crown, the only Grand Slam title she has not won.
Henin says the standard of the tour has also not changed much during her retirement. That actually allowed her to find her feet in a very short time - she lifted herself to world No 12 within six months and boasts a remarkable 32-8 win-loss this season.
"I don't think a lot of things have changed. No one is really dominating the tour. I feel similar to what I was."
But she recognizes the power of the new generation, singling out new world No 1 Caroline Wozniacki from Denmark. "She is very talented. She gives a lot trouble to a lot of players. I am sure more new players will come out in a few years."
Henin also acknowledges that she will continue her career for a long time and says she will likely play four more years. "I am toward the end of my career so I have to enjoy two or three more plays. To have fun, that's the most important thing to compete at this level."
Henin also targets another Olympic Games in London, following her singles gold medal at the 2004 Athens Games. "To play in London is my goal," she says. "Winning the gold in Athens was one of the best moments in my career.
"It's special to playing in the Olympics. You are playing for your nation and you do not feel alone in the court."
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