Class of 2016
World No. 1 (2003)
Overall Record: 572-150
Singles Record: 525-115
Doubles Record: 47-35
Gold Medal in Women’s Singles at the 2004 Games in Athens
Member of the Belgian Federation Cup Team 1999- 2003, 2006, 2010
Member of the Belgian Championship Federation Cup Team 2001
Overall Record 15-4
Singles Record 15-2
Doubles Record 0-2
Her career spanned less than a decade, ending surprisingly in her mid-20s, but Justine Henin’s dossier of achievements suggests she played twice that amount. The case can be made that in a mere five-year span — from 2003-2007 — Henin was meticulously carving out her Hall of Fame career. During that stretch, 20 major events were contested (Henin appeared in 17 of them) and the pride of Liège, Belgium won seven, was a finalist in three others and a semifinalist in one. Not surprisingly, she was the WTA year-end No. 1 three times in that span, 2003, 2006, and 2007.
Sports pundits use the term “total package” to describe athletes who have no discernible weaknesses and excel in all facets of their craft. Henin was the female tour’s “total package,” possessing a game so versatile and complete that it drew comparisons to the standard bearer of mastering every facet of the game – the legendary Roger Federer.
There were two compelling parts of Henin’s game, equally tough to crack. Without a doubt, Henin’s playing ability was considerable, but her competitiveness and mental approach was unmatched and made her an even more formidable opponent – a star in an era when the women’s tour had plenty to choose from.
"I don't know why we're not talking about Justine Henin all the time because, for her size, she's the greatest athlete we've ever seen,” said the legendary Billie Jean King. “I don't know why she's not more appreciated - she's not cutesie-wootsie - but the way she has evolved as a tennis player is unbelievable."
A Dynamo On the Court
At 5-foot-6 Henin was a dynamo on the court. She had a grooved all-court game from both sides, and through tweaks and re-tooling to her net play and serve, developed a complete arsenal of strokes. “Along with Martina (Hingis), she has probably the best racket skills of any female player I’ve seen,” former men’s No. 1 player Andy Roddick told the Bleacher Report in July, 2013. Henin’s bread and butter stroke was a sensational one-handed backhand (one of a few female players on tour to use that method versus the two-handed option) and her precision was the envy of both male and female players. Her backhand featured pace, power, topspin, underpin, slice and flat strokes, prompting John McEnroe, the owner of perhaps the best backhand in history, to suggest that Henin had “the best single-handed backhand in the women's or men's game.”
For as much notoriety as Henin’s backhand brought her, she possessed a potent forehand that was just as fierce and versatile. She dictated matches with her forehand and frustrated opponents with her backhand. Henin worked tirelessly to improve her net play, and with the same balance, footwork, speed, and control she displayed on the baseline, became one of the most proficient volleyers on the women’s tour. She also tinkered with her serving technique which led to increased power and placement and added another big weapon to her arsenal of shots.
A Path To Stardom
The women’s professional tour should have seen Henin coming. She first toted a tennis racquet at age two and her maturation process was a rapid ascent. As a junior player she won the Junior Orange Bowl International Tennis Championship in 1996. The following year she captured the French Open Junior Championship. On New Year’s Day in 1999 she turned professional, joining a legion of prodigious young women on tour. Henin made her professional debut at age 16, and by the close of 2000 was already ranked among the top-50 players in the world.
In her brief, albeit prosperous career, Henin won 43 singles titles, including 10 WTA Tour Tier I/Premier Mandatory & Premier 5 titles. Henin was ranked No. 1 in the world for 117 weeks and compiled a phenomenal 525-115 (82 percent) career record. Though an exceptional player at net, Henin played doubles sparingly, earning a 47-35 record with a pair of WTA titles to her credit. At the time of her election into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, Henin had earned nearly $21 million in prize money, the 11th highest total in history.
Grand Slam Success
Henin is one of only seven female players in history to reach all four major finals in a calendar year, achieving that rare feat in 2006. She ranks as only one of six players in history to win two major titles without losing a set, accomplished in 2007.
Henin enjoyed her most success playing on the red clay at the French Open, the venue where as the No. 4 seed she earned her first major title in 2003 with a 6-0, 6-4 thumping over No. 2 seed and compatriot Kim Clijsters. After a second round exit in 2004, Henin won the first of her three straight championships at Roland Garros in 2005, tying the record of consecutive singles titles, and becoming the first since Monica Seles to achieve that feat. All of her titles were won without losing a set -- 2005 over Frenchwoman Mary Pierce, 6-1, 6-1; 2006 over Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova, 6-4, 6-4, and 2007 over Serbian Ana Ivanovic 6-1, 6-2. From 2005-2010 Henin won 40 consecutive sets in Paris, a French Open record she shares with Helen Wills Moody. She had a 48-5 record playing in Paris.
Henin won two of her seven Grand Slam titles at the US Open, where she compiled a 35-7 record. From 2000 to 2007, she advanced to at least the fourth round in New York each year, was a finalist in 2006 and captured the 2003 and 2007 championships. Her 2003 US Open title came at the expense of Clijsters, who was seeded No. 1. The No. 2 seeded Henin was on point that afternoon, breezing to a 7-5, 6-1 victory. After falling in the 2006 final to Maria Sharapova, 6-4, 6-4, Henin rebounded the following year with an impressive 6-1, 6-3 triumph over Kuznetsova.
At the Australian Open, Henin went 38-8 and won the 2004 crown with a three set, 6–3, 4–6, 6–3 victory over her nemesis Clijsters. Henin reached the Australian Open final in 2006 and 2010, retiring against Frenchwoman Amélie Mauresmo in 2006 and falling to Serena Williams, 6–4, 3–6, 6–2, in 2010.
While Henin didn’t win a championship at Wimbledon, her presence there was still considerable. She was a finalist in 2001 (defeated by Venus Williams, 6-1, 3-6, 6-0) and 2006 (2-6, 6-3, 6-4 loss to Amelie Mauresmo of France) and a semifinalist in 2002, 2003, and 2007, earning a 30-8 record on the All England Club grass.
Retirement and comebacks
Henin’s finest year on tour came in 2007 when she won two major titles, including her third straight French Open, captured eight other tournaments, and won 63 of 67 matches, a staggering 94 percent winning mark. She closed out the year defeating Sharapova to capture the year-end championships. In the process, Henin became the first female player since 1997 to win 10 titles in a season and the first player in history to win more than $5 million in a season.
On Wednesday, May 18, 2008, Henin stunned the tennis world by announcing her retirement. Throughout history many great athletes retired at their peak – the legendary Björn Borg lasted only seven years on tour before calling it quits – but at age 25, Henin’s announcement was a shocker. The intensely private Henin didn’t provide many details on her decision, but throughout her career she battled an array of injuries, as well as a debilitating illness that affected her immune system that she contracted in 2004. The grind of playing the sport at such a high level had clearly taken its toll as well. But like all competitive athletes, Henin’s desire to play still burned. Only 16 months after her announcement she made a brief return to the tour and was still potent enough to reach the finals of the 2010 Australian Open where she lost to rival Serena Williams 6-4, 3-6, 6-2. Henin still managed to win two WTA events that year. "She was a great champion and gave me so much trouble,” said Williams.
In January 2011, at age 28, Henin was forced to retire from professional tennis for a second and final time because of an elbow injury. "I'm doing this because I love the competition, I love to push my limits, trying to be a better player,” Henin told BBC’s Inside Sport a few months prior to leaving the game. "But my friends aren't on this tour. I'm very focused on myself. I don't think about the other players except that I have a lot of respect for them."
In 2004, Henin represented Belgium with great aplomb, winning the Olympic Gold Medal in Athens. She was a dedicated Belgian Fed Cup team member, leading the team to their first Fed Cup title in 2001 and into the finals again in 2006.
Since retirement, Henin's ventures have included running a tennis academy in Belgium, as well as a foundation dedicated to medical needs of children.
Australian Open W 2004
French Open W 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007
Wimbledon F 2001, 2006
US Open W 2003, 2007
French Open SF 2001