I was pretty hard on Justine Henin-Hardenne after she retired in the second set of the Australian Open final against Amelie Mauresmo. The French Open once again showed she is the toughest competitor in women's tennis right now and made me rethink what happened at the Australian. Given her history of fight and determination on the court, she must have really had a major stomach problem that was too painful to continue, even though it looked to most of us like she could have and should have finished the match.
That said, Henin-Hardenne now has a chance to complete the career Grand Slam, something only nine women have done before. Wimbledon is the missing link, and ironically it was the first Grand Slam final she reached back in 2001.
And this year the Belgian is doing something different -- playing at Eastbourne, England (the Hastings Direct International Championships). Last year, after she won the French Open, Henin-Hardenne rested because she was still somewhat nervous about the virus she contracted in 2004 that took a long time for her to get over. She went into Wimbledon having not played since the French Open and lost in the first round to Eleni Daniilidou. The fact that she's playing this week in Eastbourne shows that she is taking a different approach and knows that playing grass-court tennis before Wimbledon is important.
When you think about the rarified air of the all-time greats, they win somewhere between 15-20 majors: Steffi Graf (22 titles), Martina Navratilova (18) and Chris Evert (18). I even put Monica Seles (nine) in that company because she was robbed by the stabbing attack that derailed her career.
Henin-Hardenne has five career Grand Slams, so I wouldn't put her up there, but she's also only halfway through her career (she turned 24 on June 1). When you think about what she has done in the last three years, if she can do that in the next three years, you can start talking about her as one of the greats. But the great ones win majors over a 10- to 12-year span.
If she does win Wimbledon, it would be her sixth career Grand Slam; that's pretty special but still a notch below the all-time greats. In women's tennis, you need to reach double digits in majors won to be considered among the greatest.
One reason Wimbledon has eluded to Henin-Hardenne to this point is the proximity of the tournament to the French Open. She's done so well at Roland Garros (winning it three of the last four years), and playing on clay takes its toll. Henin-Hardenne has had amazing clay-court records and expends a ton of energy on clay. It's just not easy to snap your fingers and be ready to go on grass.
Another reason she hasn't won at Wimbledon is because of the Williams sisters. Henin-Hardenne first played at Wimbledon in 2000; since then Venus and Serena have combined to win five of the six titles, in part because grass is a surface that is perfect for their games.
I'd be more surprised if Henin-Hardenne never wins a Wimbledon title than if Roger Federer never wins the French Open.
ESPN tennis analyst Pam Shriver won 21 singles and 112 doubles crowns, including 22 Grand Slam titles, and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2002.