Mon, Jun 11, 2007 - Page 20 News List

Henin shares victory with family

EMOTIONALThe French Open champion celebrated her win with her brothers and sister for the first time in seven years after a reconciliation prompted by a near tragedy

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , PARIS

Standing atop the battered earth of Roland Garros' main court, another trophy in her hand, Justine Henin realized that this title was so much sweeter than the rest.

Henin, the world's No. 1 player, won her fourth French Open title, her third in a row. Again, she won in straight sets, this time against Serbia's Ana Ivanovic, 6-1, 6-2. But never before have the postmatch moments unfolded the way they did on Saturday.

When Henin looked into the crowd, she saw more than just her coach, Carlos Rodriguez, and his family. For the first time in seven years, her brothers and sister were there, smiling at her.

"I looked at them, and just looking at each other, we understood a lot of things," Henin said after her match, adding that this victory was more emotional than the others because she could finally share it with her family.

Henin, who turned 25 last week, had been estranged from her family since 1999. For reasons they cannot explain, she drifted further and further apart from them as her tennis career progressed. But two months ago, after so many years apart, she got in touch with them.

Henin, an extremely private person, did not want to expound on that reconciliation with her father, Jose, her brothers David and Thomas, and her sister, Sarah. But David Henin, at 34 the oldest sibling, told the story.

In April, he had a serious car accident and was in a coma for two days. After hearing the news through Sarah, Henin traveled to Belgium to be by his side. It caused an avalanche of pent-up emotions, and the Henins realized that they needed to rebuild the family bond.

"It was something horrible that turned into something good," said David Henin, a tavern owner, who had not spoken to his sister in seven years.

Since then, there have been daily phone calls and frequent visits between Henin and her family. Their father did not come to Roland Garros because it was too emotional, Henin's brothers said.

Still, Henin knew her father was with her on Saturday, watching the match on television in Belgium. She said she felt her mother, who died of cancer when Henin was 12, watching and protecting her, too. When addressing the crowd, Henin dedicated the victory to the members of her family and said that she had missed them.

"It's been a huge step in my life in the last few months," she said later. "I was glad I could give them this victory because everyone suffered a lot from the situation in the last few years. And today, finally, we are united in this joy, and we can share this moment."

Coming into the French Open, Henin had been dealing with a difficult year. She had skipped the Australian Open after separating from her husband. Then, in a swing of emotions, she regained contact with her family. She thought that might hinder her performance. But it seemed only to improve it.

Since the beginning of the year, Rodriguez said he had seen a drastic change in Henin. She was no longer the loner on the tour.

Over the two weeks of the French Open, she has gone to dinner with friends, shopped and spent time with her family.

After the final, Henin hugged her brothers and cradled her six-week-old niece. It was the perfect ending to a perfect two weeks.

"I've been a little bit surprised, because it's been hard for me, everything I lived in the last few months, ups and downs, good things, bad things," she said. "And then I realized that it's life. Life is ups and downs, and you have to accept it."

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