Bonne Anniversaire to Belgium's best ever, Justine Henin

Bonne Anniversaire to Belgium's best ever, Justine Henin

Rafael Nadal isn’t the only French Open legend accustomed to having his birthday during his best tournament.

Rafael Nadal isn’t the only French Open legend accustomed to having a birthday during his best tournament—Justine Henin, born on June 1, 1982, celebrated hers in Paris almost every year, too.

Roland Garros was central to Henin’s story from the start. Not only had her mother taken her to the clay-court major as a child, but Henin won the girls’ title just after her 15th birthday in 1997. Four years later, she burst into prominence on the terre battue, reaching her first Grand Slam semifinal and falling to Kim Clijsters in a 2-6, 7-5, 6-3 thriller after having led 6-2, 4-2.

In 2003, a 21-year-old Henin would win the first Grand Slam title of her career on the same courts, battling back from 4-2 down in the third set to snap Serena Williams’ 33-match major-tournament winning streak in the semifinals, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5, before cruising past countrywoman Clijsters in the final, 6-0, 6-4.

“It was an emotional match for me,” Henin said of the final. “I went for that win with all my heart.”

Justine Henin on Serena Williams:

The Belgian would lift the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen another three times, winning all of the finals in straight sets. She beat Mary Pierce for the 2005 title, 6-1, 6-1; Svetlana Kuznetsova for the 2006 title, 6-4, 6-4; and Ana Ivanovic for the 2007 crown, 6-1, 6-2. She’s one of only three women in the Open Era to win the French Open four or more times, alongside Chris Evert and Steffi Graf, and one of only two women in the Open Era to capture the title three consecutive years, alongside Monica Seles.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of Henin’s resume—she also won the 2003 US Open, the 2004 Australian Open and the 2007 US Open to bring her career haul to seven Grand Slam titles. She spent a total of 117 career weeks at No. 1, one of only seven women to hit triple digits in that stat.

She’s also an Olympic champion, capturing the gold medal at the Athens Olympics in 2004.

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But year after year, Henin created her best memories at Roland Garros, and it may all have stemmed back from a promise she made to her mother as they watched the 1992 final together.

“When I was 10, I was watching that match, Graf against Seles. I was just a few meters from the court. I said to my mom, ‘One day I will be on this court and I will win the tournament.’ She looked at me like, ‘Yeah, yeah, you can dream a little bit.’ But I was so convinced and determined. There was no question. That was my destiny.

"When it happened, my mom wasn’t there—she passed away. But it was like a promise I could take. So it was of course emotional, but also a very good memory for me.”

Henin: Roland Garros is my second home

Henin abruptly went into retirement just before the 2008 French Open, but she competed at the event one final time during her year-long comeback in 2010, reaching the fourth round before falling to eventual runner-up Sam Stosur.

Since her final retirement in 2011, Henin has stayed engaged with tennis through her academy and coaching, and she’s become a mother of two. She’s been working in television, as well.

The Belgian was also inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2016.