Monday, January 25, 2010
Updated: January 30, 2:16 AM ET
History says respite not with Henin
MELBOURNE, Australia -- Justine Henin continues to roll.
On Tuesday, she moved a step closer to emulating fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters, who won a major in her first try after returning to the tour. Henin topped Nadia Petrova on Day 9 of the Australian Open to reach the semifinals, putting in another gutsy performance.
Only time will tell whether Henin will have more success now than in her first stint. Here's a look at some notable players and how they did in their respective comebacks.
Slam titles before comeback: 1
Slam titles after comeback: 1
Motivation waning and eager to start a family with her husband, American Brian Lynch, Clijsters announced her earlier-than-expected retirement in May 2007. She intended to play a little more that year.
"It would be easy to go on for a few more months and go to the four big earners in tennis," Clijsters said on her Web site at the time. "Money is important but not the most important thing in my life. Health and private life are more important."
The "desire" returned last year, and Clijsters, by then a mom, did what no other comeback artist has done. Free of any pressure and with her baseline game clicking, the 26-year-old won the first major of her return at the U.S. Open. Expectations raised, Clijsters crumbled in the third round at the Aussie last week.
Slam titles before comeback: 0
Slam titles after comeback: 3
The child prodigy of all child prodigies, Capriati, pushed by her hard-driving father, turned pro in 1990. At 13 years, 11 months, she became the youngest player to reach a tour final. Only two years later, a gold medal was draped around her neck.
To the surprise of few, Capriati soon got tired of the grind, missing all of 1994 and most of 1995, and playing sporadically until 1999. During that time, she had run-ins with the law and issues with substance abuse, resulting in stints in rehab.
Capriati came full circle in Melbourne in 2001, winning her first major later than expected, eliminating Martina Hingis. Hingis would later embark on a comeback of her own.
"Who would've thought I would have ever made it here after so much has happened," Capriati told the crowd during the trophy presentation. "Dreams do come true if you keep believing in yourself. Anything can happen."
Capriati kept it going, beating Clijsters at the French Open in one of the most exciting women's finals of the past decade and repeating in Australia.
Now 33, Capriati hasn't played since 2005 because of a shoulder injury.
Slam titles before comeback: 11
Slam titles after comeback: 0
Borg, the iceman from Sweden, had women drooling. His superb fitness and double-handed backhand, not en vogue at the time, bamboozled opponents.
By 1981, he had racked up six French Open titles and five at Wimbledon, three times winning them in the same season. Frustrated at his inability to capture the U.S. Open and fed up with traveling, he bid adieu in 1983 while still the man to beat.
"To stop at 26 was very young," Borg told ESPN.com last year. "I think I could have had another five years in top tennis if I continued. But I have no regrets. When you lose that motivation or lose your focus a little bit, it's very difficult to be on the top."
Borg attempted a smattering of comebacks, one, famously, with his wooden racket at a time when they were antique. Reports suggested he needed the money.
In 13 tournaments from 1984 through 1993, he didn't win a single match.
Slam titles before comeback: 7
Slam titles after comeback: 0
Like Borg, his fiercest rival, McEnroe took a break from the game. Much shorter, mind you. In 1986, ranked No. 2, the volatile lefty departed for six months.
"I need the time to get fresh and eager about tennis," McEnroe, blessed with arguably the best hands the game has ever seen, told reporters. "I want to do some things now that I haven't before."
One of those was to marry actress Tatum O'Neal. They divorced six years later.
McEnroe returned in the summer of 1986. After an upset loss to Paul Annacone in the first round of the U.S. Open, he won three straight titles in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Scottsdale, Ariz.
But there was another sojourn in 1987, following a controversial U.S. Open. McEnroe, using his trademark line of, "You cannot be serious," clashed with the chair umpire, earning a fine and two-month suspension.
The closest he ever got to landing another Slam was twice reaching the semifinals at Wimbledon, including in his farewell appearance as a 33-year-old in 1992.
Slam titles before comeback: 8
Slam titles after comeback: 1
The circumstances that caused Seles to walk away from the game were tragic. In 1993, during a match with rival Steffi Graf on her home turf in Germany, a deranged Graf fan stabbed Seles, then the world No. 1, below the left shoulder blade.
Seles, born in the former Yugoslavia, didn't play again for two years and three months, when she returned at the Canadian Open in Toronto.
"Coming back in Toronto after my stabbing, I viewed my career in two phases, before stabbing and after stabbing," Seles said last summer when inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame. "The reception that I got just reinforced my decision to return."
Seles, famous for her grunts and hitting the ball with both hands on the forehand and backhand, won in Toronto. A fairytale nearly materialized at the subsequent U.S. Open. Seles made it to the final but was beaten by Graf in three sets.
Seles did win the next major, claiming a fourth Australian Open. She contested her final Grand Slam in 2003 and contemplated a return in 2008, a foot injury ultimately too much to overcome.
"She won eight Grand Slams before she was stabbed," tennis visionary Donald Dell, inducted into the hall last year, said. "Believe me, she would have won another nine."
Others: Hingis and Lindsay Davenport, both former No. 1s, came back with much fanfare, although the former left the game disgraced after testing positive for cocaine. Davenport, a mother to a young son and daughter, told ESPN.com this month that another comeback is unlikely.