Queen of clay is determined to prove she's not green on grass

Belgian star Justine Henin seeks to add her first Wimbledon title to a long list of Grand Slam triumphs
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Quiz question: Which two current women players have won more grass-court titles than any others? Venus Williams has won five – all of them at Wimbledon – but the next name on the list might come as a surprise. Justine Henin, the queen of clay, has never won at the All England Club, yet her victory over Andrea Petkovic at s'Hertogenbosch on Saturday was her fourth title on grass.

Henin, who also won the Dutch event in 2001 and was champion at Eastbourne in 2006 and 2007, is back at Wimbledon for the first time for three years, having ended her 20-month retirement in January. The prospect of adding Wimbledon to her Grand Slam collection – which already comprises four French Open titles, two US Opens and one Australian Open – was one of the factors behind her decision to return.

The 28-year-old Belgian has played in two Wimbledon finals, losing to Venus Williams in 2001 and to Amelie Mauresmo in 2006. She also looked well-placed to win in 2007, only to go out in the semi-finals to Marion Bartoli in one of the biggest shocks of recent years: between the start of that year's French Open and the end of the season it was Henin's only defeat in 42 matches.

Despite her record on grass, Henin believes she has never quite had the self-belief to win at the All England Club. "I don't think I've failed to win Wimbledon in the past for any physical reasons," she said. "I think it was because I didn't trust myself enough as a grass-court player.

"I've been in positions where I could have won Wimbledon. In 2006, I'd won the French and got to the final at Wimbledon. I won the first set 6-2 against Mauresmo, I had everything in my hands, even physically, and I just had to keep going for one or maybe two more sets. But I probably didn't believe enough that I could win it. The problem was mental."

Saturday's success gave Henin her second title since her return and the 43rd of her career, putting her level with Venus Williams as the most successful current player. Although losing to Samantha Stosur in the fourth round at the French Open was a disappointment, it did at least give Henin time to rediscover her grass-court game.

Henin is not the only Belgian former world No 1 making her return to Wimbledon. Kim Clijsters, who won the US Open last summer in only her third tournament back after taking a two-year break to start a family, last played at the All England Club in 2006, when she matched her best performance by reaching the semi-finals.

The two Belgians could meet in the fourth round, but Clijsters, who has already beaten her great rival twice this year, will take nothing for granted. "First of all we both have to get there," she said. "It's a week from now, so there's still a while to go, but hopefully we can both get there. We've had some good matches this year so it would be great to keep that going."

The last 16 could also see another clash of heavyweights between Serena Williams, the defending champion, and Maria Sharapova, the winner in 2004. Sharapova has been dogged by injury for the last two years, but there were signs in her recent victory in Strasbourg, her narrow defeat to Henin in Paris and her run to the final of the Aegon Classic on grass at Edgbaston that she may be able to make a sustained challenge over the next fortnight.

Williams said she was looking forward to the Queen's visit to Wimbledon on Thursday. "I've been working on my curtsy," she said. "It's a little extreme, so I'm going to have to tone it down a little bit."

Wimbledon weather

*Warm with sunny intervals, becoming cloudier during the afternoon. Light wind.

*Maximum temperature: 23C

*Live: BBC2 12-8pm, BBC1, 5.10-6pm

Additional coverage on BBCi 11.50am-9pm and BBCHD 5-8pm.

*Highlights: 8-9pm, BBC2.