Justine Henin made her return to professional tennis today with a 7-5, 7-5 win over world #20 Nadia Petrova at the Brisbane International tennis tournament to kick off the 2010 season. Her return marks the second time in the last year a former grand slam champion from Belgium has dipped her toes back into competitive tennis. While I am a big fan of Kim Clijsters, who came back last summer and won the US Open, I am pumped about prospect of getting to see the ‘female Federer’ again. That’s right. I just admitted being excited about watching woman’s tennis. Watching the tiny pit bull Henin race around the court ripping backhands while destroying her opponent’s will does that for me.
You see, I am not too picky about my sports. Give me top quality competition with a bit of drama and I am there. Sprinkle in a little bit of greatness and I am there with bells on. Baseball has had that in recent years with the Yankees and Red Sox rivalry. Golf has had it with Tiger Woods. Men’s tennis has really had it with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Women’s tennis has definitely not had it since Henin retired in May, 2008.
When Henin left, she did so with 7 major titles under her belt (4 French Opens, 2 US Opens and 1 Aussie Open). She was the number 1 player in the world and competed against the Williams sisters, Clijsters, Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic among others. Every major was hotly contested and there was always a story line to follow. Would the Williams sisters or Henin continue their dominance, or would one of the young guns finally break through? Henin’s retirement effectively signaled the end of that era.
The proof of this is in the current women’s world rankings: Serena Williams, Dinara Safina, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Caroline Wozniacki, Elena Dementieva, and Venus Williams make up the top 6 players in the world. Of these players, the Williams sisters have 17 majors between them and Kuznetsova has 2. The only other active players that have won majors are Sharapova with 3 and Ivanovic with 1. Essentially the tour is full of a lot of mediocrity and the Williams sisters after Ivanovic and Jankovic failed to materialize as truly special players.
Clijsters helped out the cause last year by coming back to the tour and winning her second major at the US Open. I like to think I was the earliest fan on her bandwagon when she came back. I watched her first match back at the Canadian Open and was mesmerized at the power of her forehand and her speed. Midway through the first set I told my wife that Clijsters was going to win the US Open. I said “Mark my words!” or some other impressive collection of words to emphasize my point. Of course I did not realize at the time that she only had one career major win which made my prediction pretty foolish. Given that it came true, I like to repeat it to whomever will listen. I do spare my family and friends from hearing about the 300 or so other predictions I made last year that did not come true.
With Henin back I have renewed hope that the sport of women’s tennis will again be exciting to watch with plenty of drama to unfold. Will Justine manage to win the French Open again? Can Clijsters keep the momentum going with a win at the Australian Open? Can Venus summon up the game to win another Wimbledon title? Or will Serena blow everyone out of the water and shove tennis balls down their collective throats? I will refrain from any bold predictions until I have had a chance to watch or match or two, but I suspect that there will be some major Belgian success in 2010.