Each week, Baseline will take a look at a player who has thrived at one of the stops on the ATP and WTA tours during their career. (Photos: Getty Images)
Winning the girls French Open title in 1997 only a few days after turning 16 years old, Justine Henin made her debut in the women’s event two years later, giving the second seed Lindsay Davenport all she could handle before losing 7-5 in the third.
Two separate results with one thing in common: marking the Belgian as a future all-time great, particularly on the clay. And that label is one she definitely lived up to as she would go on to win four French Open titles in her Hall-of-Fame career.
After that promising showing in 1999, Henin missed the tournament the following year. When she returned in 2001 as the 14th seed, she didn’t drop a set through her first five matches to reach the semifinals. Continuing her strong play in the final four against her countrywoman, Kim Clijsters, Henin won the first set, but fell in three in the historic matchup. Showing that she was an all-surface talent, Henin rebounded from that defeat to reach her first Grand Slam final a few weeks later at Wimbledon, where she lost to Venus Williams.
With more experience under her belt and a top-five seeding, Henin was one of the favorites for the 2002 title, but in one of the upsets of the tournament, she lost her opening match to the qualifier, Anika Kapros, 6-0 in the third set.
Returning to Paris a year later, this time as a married woman, Henin-Hardenne was on a mission, and only dropped one set through her first five matches. In the semifinals, she faced the defending champion, Serena Williams, who was attempting to win her fifth Grand Slam title in a row. In a match that would be overshadowed by controversy, Henin beat the American in three sets to reach her second career major final.
In the championship match, Henin faced Clijsters once again, but this time there would be no let-up: After storming through the opener 6-0, Henin took the second by a 6-4 scoreline to become the first Belgian to win a Grand Slam singles championship. Later in the year, she would win her first US Open title, then add the Australian Open to her major triumphs in 2004. Her attempt at a French Open title defense was short-lived, however. Battling a virus that would impact her results throughout the rest of the year, the top-seeded Henin lost in the second round.
Starting her 2005 campaign off late due to a knee injury, Henin settled into a groove on the clay, winning three titles before Paris. With her rank up to 12, and seeded 1oth, the Belgian won her second championship at Roland Garros, defeating the home favorite Mary Pierce in straight sets.
In 2006, Henin reached the final round at all four of the Grand Slams, but only emerged as the winner at one and naturally, it would be Roland Garros. Dominating from start to finish, the Belgian didn’t drop a set in any of her seven matches, including a win over Svetlana Kuznetsova in the final. A year later, she repeated the feat of a perfect 14-0 record in sets played, as she routed Serena Williams, Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic—all members of the top 10—in her last three matches. With the victory, Henin became the first player to three-peat in Paris since Monica Seles in the early ‘90s.
Early in the 2008 clay-court season, Henin shocked the tennis world by announcing her immediate retirement—while still ranked No. 1 in the world. She stayed away from the game for more than a year, but decided to come back at the beginning of 2010. In her first Grand Slam, Henin reached the final of the Australian Open, signaling she was ready for another charge up the rankings. Back in the top 25 by the start of the French Open, she advanced to the fourth round before falling to seventh seed Samantha Stosur in three sets.
That would be her last appearance at Roland Garros as she was back out of the game—for good, this time—only a few months later. Still, from winning a junior title as a young teenager to becoming one of the senior event’s dominant champions, Henin left an indelible mark on the game’s most prestigious clay-court tournament.