Once again, Belgium is the centre of the women's tennis universe, as, just a week or so after 'Tennis Mama' Kim Clijsters won the US Open title, Justine Henin could today announce that she is also to have a 'second career' on the professional tour.
But it would be wrong to simply lump the Belgians’ stories together just because they have the same passports, because they are both former world No 1s, and just because this is happening all at once, as there are some significant differences between Clijsters’ ‘unretirement’ and the mooted Second Coming of Juju.
For one thing, Henin wouldn’t be another working mother of the sport; unlike Clijsters, she hasn’t been on the journey from maternity dress to tennis skirt.
And, if the speculation in Belgium is accurate and Henin says tonight on Belgian television that she is joining the list of the women’s tour’s ‘unretired’ – as Martina Hingis, Lindsay Davenport and others have asked before her, why have just one tennis career when you can have two? – she is unlikely to begin by suggesting that she is doing so simply because she was encouraged by watching Clijsters win the New York slam at only her third tournament back. Even before Clijsters was celebrating on the Arthur Ashe Stadium with her daughter Jada and her husband Brian Lynch, there had been rumours that Henin was thinking about coming back, with stories in Belgium that she had ordered a batch of 14 tennis rackets. Still, Clijsters’ success in America indicated that it is entirely possible that Henin could end up winning the next slam, January’s Australian Open.
After all, Henin was always a more successful player than Clijsters. Though she is only 5ft 5in tall, she doesn’t have Clijsters’ athletic build, and, unlike Clijsters, she doesn’t tend to do the splits on court, Henin always did have a backhand that was both devastatingly attractive and devastatingly effective. That backhand was the shot that brought Henin seven slam titles to Clijsters’ two.
At 27, Henin is a year older than Clijsters. Belgium and Florida’s Palm Beach Gardens (home to the Williams sisters, Serena and Venus) are once again the parts of the globe that matter in the women’s game.