The Contrarian: Justine Henin's Return a Symptom of Women's Tennis Problems

Dave HarrisCorrespondent ISeptember 24, 2009

ROME, ITALY - MAY 18:  Justine Henin of Belgium and Kim Clijsters of Belgium kiss at the net after Henin won 7-5, 6-2 in their Semi-Final match during the WTA Tennis Masters held at the Foro Italico in Rome, Italy on May 18, 2002. (Photo Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

The state of women’s tennis is shocking.

Kim Clijsters’ victory in the US Open shows just how limited the women’s game is at the moment: When a woman who has taken two years off can dip straight back into the sport and win a Grand Slam, it proves how little depth there is at the top of the sport.

Omer Jaweed’s recent article notes that there are currently six players on Tour who have held the No. 1 ranking and have won Grand Slams, but this serves to emphasise how fragile the competition is, particularly when compared to the men’s game, in which Roger Federer has long been the epitome of consistency and the pinnacle of ambition, and only recently has Rafael Nadal, for all his undoubted athleticism, power, and quality, managed to end Federer’s run as No. 1. 

And now we hear that another former No. 1—Justine Henin—is also intending to make a comeback.  Clearly she can see that she also has a good opportunity to get straight back in and compete at the highest level, because the game has not moved on since she retired.

The Williams sisters, whilst dominant when they are on form, play far too infrequently to provide the WTA Tour with the sort of commitment needed from top players, whilst the other “top” names—Amelie Mauresmo, Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic, Dinara Safina, and Maria Sharapova—are frustratingly inconsistent or regularly out through injury.

On top of this are a bevy of interchangeable, impersonal Russians and Eastern European girls whose heydays are the beating of a top name on their off day, before losing to one of the other top girls in the semis or final of a tournament.

Henin’s comeback -apparently her “fire has been relit”—has hit the headlines simply in the wake of Clijsters’ “unbelievable” success on her return.

One has to doubt how much her motivation has simply returned as a result of not playing, and how much is down to the obvious opportunities she has to return to her Grand Slam winnings exploits of the mid-decade with relatively little effort (including winning the French Open without dropping a set).

The Williams girls were once the dominant force in the Women’s game, but have retreated amongst the millions of dollars of prize money to pick and choose their events whilst focusing on their other interests—hardly a vote of confidence for the strength of the WTA Tour.

Whither the next dominant female player? The Navratilova or Graf?

It’s unlikely to be Henin or Clijsters, nor indeed any of the other pretenders at the moment.  The world awaits the next true great in women’s tennis.