Seven-time Grand Slam champion Justine Henin said she’ll retire from tennis again because of a right elbow injury sustained last year at Wimbledon.
Doctors told the former world No. 1 her “elbow is too fragile and hurt so that my passion and my profession at high level cannot continue to exist,” Henin, 28, said today in a statement on her website.
The Belgian was knocked out of the Australian Open five days ago in the third round by Svetlana Kuznetsova, a former French Open and U.S. Open champion. She entered the tournament having not played an official match since injuring her elbow against reigning U.S. Open champion Kim Clijsters in June.
Henin made last year’s Australian Open final, where she lost to Serena Williams, following a 20-month break from the sport. During her comeback, she won titles on clay in Stuttgart, Germany, and on grass in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands.
Henin will go down as “one of the greatest female athletes of her era,” Stacey Allaster, chairman and chief executive officer of the women’s WTA Tour, said in an e-mailed statement. “She has been an incredible ambassador for women’s tennis on and off the court, and her fighting spirit, tremendous courage and ultimate success has captured the minds and hearts of millions of fans around the world.”
Henin captured 41 titles -- including four French Opens, two U.S. Opens and one Australian Open -- before quitting the game in May 2008 because she wanted a “new start” in life. During her time away from the game she had dominated as world No. 1 for 117 weeks, she starred in a reality television program in Belgium, hosted a music show and traveled the world as a Unicef ambassador.
Henin had her most successful season in 2007, winning 10 of 14 events including the French and U.S. opens. She had skipped the 2007 Australian Open after separating from her husband, Pierre-Yves Hardenne, and patched up her relationship with her estranged father, sister and two brothers. Henin’s mother died of cancer when she was 12.
“I saw Roger Federer winning the French Open, so I thought, well I still miss Wimbledon,” Henin, twice a runnerup at the Grand Slam, said in Paris.
Henin today said she had been in a lot of pain since injuring her elbow.
“After my crash at Wimbledon in June, I knew it would be difficult to come back,” she said on her website today. “But I had decided to keep playing and to give everything to overcome the injury.”
Henin worked on her elbow for the past seven months, only to have it worsen during her Australian Open campaign.
“I suffered a lot the last week and every day gave me more and more pain, but I believed that my will would take the upper hand,” Henin said.
Professor Johan Bellemans, Henin’s orthopaedic surgeon at UZ Leuven, a hospital in Belgium, advised the player to quit the game immediately to ensure she has full use of the elbow, according to comments reported by Belga, a Belgian newswire.
“If she lets the elbow heal, there is a reasonable chance she will be able to be free of pain when going about the daily activities in her life,” Bellemans said to Belga. “Should she have continued to continue with her tennis career, then that would not have been guaranteed.”
Henin thanked her fans, team, medical staff, family and long-time coach Carlos Rodriguez for their support.
“What a wonderful trip I have experienced during all these years,” she said.
Henin’s game was built around her backhand, a stylish one- handed stroke that blistered opponents. Standing only 5-foot-5, she had a reputation for mental toughness, beating Jennifer Capriati in a 2003 U.S. Open semifinal while battling leg cramps so bad she had to lean on her racket between points and needed intravenous fluids after the match.
“We have all been fortunate to once again have had the opportunity to witness the beauty of her game,” Allaster said. “In her young career Justine has already done so much to inspire and give back to others, and I am sure this will continue to be a big part of the next chapter of her life.”
Henin retires being ranked 13th on the WTA tour, having amassed more than $20 million in prize money and a win-loss record of 527-116.