The world's top women tennis players have been paying tribute to and expressing support for former No. 1 Justine Henin after her shock retirement announcement on Wednesday.
Most of the rest of the top 10 are playing in Rome in their last tune-up tournament before the French Open begins later this month.
Henin’s retirement came just a year after her Belgian compatriot Kim Clijsters also quit the game whilst still at the top.
The difference with Henin, though, is that she is coming off the back of her best season ever last year, she was still well clear as the No. 1 player in the world and she wasn’t currently injured.
One of her greatest rivals over the last few years, Serena Williams, described the little Belgian as a champion.
“She’s a great champion who gave me a world of trouble, so I hope the best for her. She had a great year last year,” she said. “What can you say about such a champion? I don’t think we have enough time.”
Williams edged their head-to-head-record 7-6 courtesy of a 6-2, 6-0 thrashing of Henin in Miami earlier this year and she said the match between the pair that most stood out for her was at that same venue.
“Miami last year was such a hard-fought match, and I was so glad to win,” Williams said.
She had dropped the first set of their quarter-final clash 6-0 but came back to win the next two 7-5, 6-3 before going on to lift the title.
Serena’s sister Venus also enjoyed an impressive winning record against Henin, leading their series 7-2, although she lost the only match they played since the 2003 Australian Open.
Venus expressed sympathy for Henin.
“If she made that decision then it’s probably the best decision for her,” she said. “Of course my prayers are with her so that way she can continue to lead the life that’s best for her. I think she was a great opponent. She always challenged herself to play her best tennis no matter what the circumstances. She was a real fighter, so I think that’s what made her the best.”
World No. 3 Ana Ivanovic of Serbia, who will move up to No. 2 after Henin’s retirement, said the news had taken her by surprise but didn’t change anything for her personally.
“Definitely the news was very surprising but my goals haven’t changed,” she said. “I still have to work hard. Henin was a tough one to get past [in the rankings]. She was another champion, a great player who achieved so much and brought a lot to women’s tennis. She had a completely different game to the other women. Last year she had great results.”
“I’m sorry to hear this but it’s her own decision and feeling if she’s happy with her career and what she achieved,” Ivanovic said. “She won Grand Slams and was No. 1, so she had a successful career.”
Henin won seven Grand Slams and 41 singles titles and finished the year as No. 1 in the world three times, in 2003, 2006 and last year.