Former world No. 1’s Justine Henin, Marat Safin, and Amelie Mauresmo were presented with the highest honor in tennis over the weekend – induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Mauresmo was actually inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2015, but had to miss last year’s festivities due to the birth of her child, and so she traveled to Newport this year to participate. Also receiving honors as part of the Hall of Fame Class of 2016 was France’s Yvon Petra and Great Britain’s Peggy Scriven, both posthumous inductees who were great champions in the 1940’s and 1930’s respectively.
The new Tennis Hall of Famers were joined by Hall of Famers Jimmy Connors, Monica Seles, Stan Smith, Rosie Casals, Owen Davidson, Vic Seixes, Jane Brown Grimes, Butch Buchholz, and Peachy Kellmeyer in Newport, Rhode Island for the festivities.
Of Safin, Connors commented, “He was emotional, played with passion. That is what drew me to him. Colorful, yes. Charismatic, yes. Controversial, yes. Great tennis player, no doubt. All reasons why when Marat took the court, you wanted to have the best seat in the house, never knowing what you were going to get. The tennis you expected. Everything else was a bonus. I for one loved the show.
“When I asked him which he liked better, tennis or politics, he quickly replied, Tennis, because you don't have to think. So right now I would like him to think. I want him to think about the history of this game and his place in it. Think about all the great athletes, great tennis players, both men and women that have stood right here before him, all writing their own chapter in this great book of tennis, and making the game what it is today in their own way, and how now he is a part of that.”
Safin spent a good amount of time in the museum at the International Tennis Hall of Fame over the induction weekend. “It's incredible place, incredible history. I know a little bit about that. I'm in the club. The site, it's an amazing place. I never expect I would be here and I would see that. Coming here, it's an amazing place. I was like a kid in Disneyland. This is an amazing place. You feel the power, the energy. You can see what kind of people are living here before.”
Safin, a two-time Grand Slam champion, was the first ever inductee from Russia to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. He was world No. 1 for nine weeks, and was in the world top-five for 119 weeks. Safin defeated American legend Pete Sampras at the US Open in straight sets. The match demonstrated Safin’s power and athleticism in a significant way, calling Pete to reference him as the “tennis of the future.” At the 2005 Australian Open, Safin captured his second major by defeating Lleyton Hewitt in the final and taking down world No. 1 Roger Federer in five sets en route. Safin won 15 singles titles, including five ATP Masters 1000 tournament titles. Safin was a dedicated Davis Cupper for many years, leading the Russian team to two championships.
Justine Henin was introduced by Hall of Famer Monica Seles at the Induction Ceremony.
“What an honor it is for me to introduce Justine Henin, someone who personifies everything tennis stands for: passion, effort, persistence and fair play. Justine's journey reveals the power of a single person's desire to achieve greatness in his or her own way. As Justine told us, impossible is nothing.
“For Justine, it all began with the dreams of a little girl in Belgium, a girl who saw the game through her own personal lens, a girl who at a young age picked up a racquet and said, This is how I'm going to hit a backhand. And what a backhand it became. Beautiful, powerful, versatile. Without a question, one of the signature shots in tennis history. As an opponent, I hated it. At the age of 10, Justine in 1992 attended the Roland Garros finals with her mom. With the unblinking conviction that the whole world would witness firsthand, Justine told her mom that she one day, too, would play for the championship. Justine was true to her word. Four times Justine won the French Open. The clay court was her canvas, and the racquet her paint brush.”
Of the Hall of Fame induction, Henin commented, “It's such a big honor. To be honest, I've never been running after the honor. Not that I don't accept it, but my nature is to be shy. But to be honest, today is also quite emotional, not only get this honor, but also need to remember how hard was the way but how beautiful was the way from the little girl of six years old that was not that big. It means a lot of things that I've learned in this life--things like commitment, dedication, respect. Being part of the history of the game, it's much more than I could expect for as a little girl. I'm really proud, happy.”
Like Safin, Henin was the first ever inductee from her home nation of Belgium to be inducted. Undisputedly one of our game’s greatest of all time, Henin won 43 singles titles, seven Grand Slam singles titles, and an Olympic gold medal in 2004. She was a Fed Cup champion and the WTA year-end No.1 three times.
Amelie Mauresmo was introduced at the Induction Ceremony by her longtime friend and former manager, Micky Lawler, who is now President of the WTA Tour.
“I'd like to thank the Hall of Fame for postponing a little bit the induction and for giving me the opportunity to be here with you today with my family. It means a lot to me. Yes, I'm a bit late, but it was worth it, as the best journey in life is starting. I don't even know how to say it and how to express it. When I hear all those champions, what they've achieved, the greatest in our sport, I mean, to be part of that list, even as a small champion compared to those who put a big history in our sport, is such an honor. It's a privilege. It's a responsibility obviously that I hope I'm carrying, still carrying, in a good way, that is making you proud even after that career that I had,” said Mauresmo.
In the audience at the Induction Ceremony was Philip Petra, the son of posthumous inductee Yvon Petra of France. Petra’s career success came at a difficult time, straddling World War II. A talented player going into the war, Petra was held as a POW for five years, during which time he was forced to play exhibition matches to give an
appearance that all was ok in the world. Remarkably, after his release, Petra went on to win the 1946 Wimbledon title. He is the last French man to have done so. Born in 1916, Petra passed away in 1984. Of the induction, his son Philip said, “It would have been the greatest honor of his life.”
Peggy Scriven, of Yorkshire, England, was a clay court specialist of the 1930s who achieved the rare feat of back-to-back French Championships in 1933 and 1934. She was the first British woman and the only unseeded player ever to win the French National Championships. Scriven was the first left handed woman in tennis history to win a major tournament title – a feat in itself in an era where many children were trained to be right handed. A skilled clay court player, Scriven also won a mixed doubles and doubles title at the French Nationals. Scriven was born in 1912 and she passed away in 2001.
Petra and Scriven were inducted in the Master Player Category, which honors individuals who have been out of the sport for twenty years or more.