There are not many serial grand slam winners who never won Wimbledon: Monica Seles (nine Grand Slams), Ken Rosewall (eight), Ivan Lendl (eight), Mats Wilander (seven) and Justine Henin (seven).
Now Henin is making a comeback with the express purpose of removing herself from this list. “It is a dream of mine,” Henin said of winning Wimbledon in the second chapter of her career. “I want to work to get it. I make it a priority.”
On Henin’s side is her age [she is just 27], her lack of time away from the game, her fitness and the general opinion that her skills are unlikely to have atrophied in retirement. Then there is the example set by her compatriot Kim Clijsters who returned from retirement and won the US Open on a wildcard.
So on the second time round, can Henin capture the one Grand Slam that eluded her?
In terms of her toughest opponents, they will be familiar faces: Serena and Venus Williams. Venus beat Henin in the 2001 final and 2002 semi, while Serena was the victor when they met in the last four of 2003.
After a 6-1, 3-6, 6-0 defeat to Venus in the 2001 final, Henin’s first appearance in a Grand Slam decider, she told the world: “I think I proved today that size doesn’t matter.”
But after losing the 2002 semi-final to Venus 6-3, 6-2, Henin vocalised what many thought of her chances on grass against either of the Williams sisters. ”She didn’t let me play,” Henin said. ”I tried to do my best. I tried to go to the net. I was serving well, but she made great returns. I had nothing to do. I think she was too strong, too good. She was so aggressive, so powerful, so what could I do?”
The other potential stumbling block for Henin is her mental and physical fitness, witness her defeats to Amelie Mauresmo in the 2006 final and Marion Bartoli in the 2007 semi-final.
As Alison Kervin observed in The Times after the defeat to Bartoli. “The Belgian is not the type to make excuses for poor performances, but her demeanour after the match suggested deep fatigue. It is not so much physical strength she lacks, but some element of resolve seems to have gone missing temporarily from her make-up.”
It has not gone unnoticed that Serena and Venus Williams, with their selective entry into tournaments, are still the dominant players in the women’s game while Henin and Clijsters retired then returned. What will Henin’s approach be to the second part of her career? Will she also pick and choose the events she enters? Could she skip the French Open to concentrate on her grass game, as Ivan Lendl once did? Or will she continue as before, confident that her talent will be rewarded with her name on the Venus Rosewater Dish?