Too many great women's champions are retiring early and leaving some of the tour's biggest honors to those who should have needed more time to achieve them. Had Belgian and seven-time grand Slam champion Justine Henin not unexpectedly retired in May at the relatively young age of 26, this topic might not be ripe for discussion. But with Henin joining other former Slam champs under the age of 29 like Martina Hingis, Kim Clijsters and Anastasia Myskina in early retirement, it's worth noting.
"That's the face of tennis today, with a player who is reaching No.1 without winning a Grand Slam," Henin's coach Carlos Rodriguez told FOXsports.com of Jankovic, who was 0-9 against Henin. "It's a sign. She's a good player, but when you see Maria Sharapova and the Williams sisters, they not only win Grand Slams, but they have the charisma. They give something extra, not only hitting balls. There's more behind them."
Rodriguez says that one of the reasons that Henin is retired is that she's looking to prove to herself that she can do more than just "hitting the ball" and will only likely consider a comeback once she has taken a very necessary mental break. But what Henin left after she retired from her most dominant season ever in 2007 is a tour with three legitimate Hall of Fame players and a bunch of developing competitors who really couldn't hold her worn out pair of socks."I have a lot of respect for the other players, but outside of the Willamses and Sharapova, the rest are still really poor," Rodriguez said.
"Outside of the Williams sisters and Sharapova, there are no players on tour who can consistently win ugly when the chips are down, their bodies are aching and their foes are zoning on them. That's part of the make-up that Henin had, her innate ability to fight like an alley cat even when being attacked by every mangy dog in the alley."
"You can't teach that," Rodriguez said. "You can learn a lot of things, but you cannot change the natural personality of a player. With Serena, Venus, Justine and Jennifer Capriati, they have the personality that even when they weren't enjoying it, they could go through. There's no question that Maria, Serena and Venus are far and away from the other players. Their quality is too good."Henin put a hurt on all of those players, who also got back at the Belgian in some of the finest matches the tour has seen this century. They may not miss losing to her, but Serena and Sharapova have admitted to missing the thrill of the battle against Henin, trying to figure out which strategy would work against the cagey all-courter's high-variety game.
But Henin isn't coming back anytime soon, if at all, so now it's up one of three other elite players to see if they can dominate like the Belgian did in 2007.
Then there's Serena, she of nine Grand Slam titles and with the ambition to go well into the double digits. Now 27-years-old, Serena appears to be on a one Grand Slam per year pace. She's capable of doing better, but time is running short, and there's little room for the party circuit if she's ever going to dominate again. She, Venus and Jankovic will tee it up in Stuttgart this week. If Serena wants to stay at No. 1, she's going to have to keep her mind focused on the next six weeks — not an easy task after a hard year and when the offseason beckons.
"Serena has the quality, and everything she needs mentally and physically to do it she has," Rodriguez said. "But is she going take care of herself and prepare to go into action? If she does that, I think Serena has another two or three great years left."