Former world number one Justine Henin believes defending champion Simona Halep is favourite to win the women’s singles title at the French Open starting this month from May 26. Last year in a grueling French Open final, Halep had defeated US Open champion Sloane Stephens 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 to secure her first major title after three previous final appearances, including two at the Roland Garros. After that, the current world no. 2 didn’t have much success and had to face losses in the subsequent US Open and Australian Open, that too in the initial rounds. Recently, she had withdrawn from the Stuttgart Open due to a hip injury which she sustained while playing against Caroline Garcia in Romania’s Fed Cup earlier this month.
However, seven-time grand slam champion Henin believes Halep has a complete game required to be played on clay and thus would be the favourite to lift the title. “It is going to be a very interesting tournament. I think Simona Halep is going to be the favourite. I like her game, I like how she plays on clay because on clay you need to be a complete player, both physically and mentally,” she said. “Every grand slam, you get one or two surprises. So, I am expecting that also to happen,” she added.
Henin, a four-time French Open champion, was in the capital to attend the fifth edition of the Roland-Garros Junior Wild Card Series where Mann Maulik Shah emerged as champion in the boys’ category while Shaikh Humera won in the girls’ category. During the interaction with the media, the 36-year-old pointed out that tennis needs a lot of big names to inspire young children to take up the sport. She was also off the view that the game has changed a lot in the last 15 years.
“The game has become more physical and surfaces have changed a lot. There has been a big change in the last 15 years. There is now more power and control as there are long rallies which take place in the matches these days.” Henin had engaged in a long-standing rivalry with co-countrywoman Kim Clijsters. During the 25 meetings over a 12-year period — with eight taking place in a Grand Slam tournament — Clijsters had a 13-12 record against her Belgian opponent. While it was often reported that the duo didn’t share a healthy off-court relationship, Henin cleared that they were just rumours.
“Kim and I never had any problem… It’s been a relation that has helped both of us to become better as players. So, I always say I would not have been half a player as I was if Kim was not there,” she insisted. When asked about her relationship with the Roland Garros, a place where she dominated over a decade and won four singles’ title, the Belgian said, “Roland Garros is in my heart, it’s in my body. Whenever I go there, even now I feel there is something for me. It’s connected to my history. My first connection towards tennis has been at the Roland Garros. I feel at home there. Roland Garros would be tough for me to miss.”
She also made it clear that at present, she doesn’t want to take up coaching as a profession like many of her colleagues, while maintaining she has not closed the door for it in the future. “Being a coach is an altogether different profession because it’s not you who has to play, but the player you are coaching. You have to stop thinking about yourself as a player but the person you are coaching,” Henin said. “You have to invest a lot. You cannot just travel 15-20 weeks but you need to travel 30-35 weeks which, for me, is currently not possible. I give advises to players at my academy. Right now, I am not in a condition to become a coach. But, I have not closed the door for it in the future,” she signed off.