Justine Henin-Hardenne retires

Justine Henin, retires unexpectedly from tennis on Wednesday.

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Henin dominated on the clay in Paris, winning four of the last five French Opens, including the last three in a row. In an era of women’s tennis that is defined by stronger and bigger athletes taking over — to the point where Martina Hingis rationalized retiring due to her inability to fight the trend — Henin refused to concede. Similar to Jim Courier, she outworked the competition. Rare was the tournament that I didn’t run into her in the gym. She was the definition of a gym rat, and her increased physical strength helped her overcome some of her mental frailties to the point that the results were staggering. She won seven majors, with only Wimbledon escaping her, and she had been the World’s No. 1 ranked player for 117 weeks when she decided to call it quits.

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The trademark of her game was her backhand. Never has a female player of her size contorted her body with such artistry and produced such an effective shot. Her backhand was a true testament to her impeccable timing and technical precision. During a Wimbledon telecast I once heard John McEnroe, himself the ultimate artist, describe Henin’s backhand as “one of the great shots in tennis.”

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With her favorite tournament on the horizon, the three-time defending French Open champion concluded that she no longer had the adrenaline the tournament normally evokes and that the work no longer matched the reward.

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