|Justine Henin won seven Grand Slam singles titles. (MARK RENDERS/Getty Images)|
LIMELETTE, Belgium - The determination that helped Justine Henin beat bigger, stronger opponents time and again was fading.
"I decided," the 25-year-old Belgian said, "to stop fooling myself and accept it."
Henin retired from tennis yesterday, an abrupt ending to a career in which she won seven Grand Slam singles titles and spent more than 100 weeks ranked No. 1.
She announced her decision at a news conference 1 1/2 weeks before the start of the French Open, where she has won the past three titles and four overall.
Put simply, she realized she was burned out, and became the first woman to quit the sport while atop the WTA rankings.
"I always based everything on this motivation - this flame - that was in me. And once I lost that, I lost many, many things," Henin said.
Surprising as her departure was to the rest of the world, it seemed somehow inevitable to her.
After reaching the final at each Grand Slam tournament in 2006, she won 10 tournaments in 2007, including two majors. But this season, she started to find it an ever bigger chore to pack her luggage to travel to tournaments. Her legs felt heavy when she should have been dancing in the backcourt, ready to turn another one of those sparkling backhands into a winner.
When she was hurt, she no longer minded if an injury lingered. Ever since being discovered as a child prodigy, tennis was everything to Henin. Now, though, tennis was making it clear that her time was up.
"Everything became harder," Henin said. "I felt, deep inside, something was getting out of my grasp."
She lost, 6-4, 6-0, to Maria Sharapova in the Australian Open, then 6-2, 6-0 to Serena Williams at the
At last week's German Open, Henin lost, 5-7, 6-3, 6-1, to Dinara Safina. Then she pulled out of this week's Italian Open, citing fatigue.
"At the end of the match in Berlin, [retirement] all of a sudden was there as something evident," Henin said.
"I had reached my limits, and I feel strong and relieved that I could take this decision," she said.
In addition to her four French Open titles, Henin won the Australian Open in 2004, and the US Open in 2003 and 2007. She has been ranked No. 1 since Nov. 13, 2006 (except for a seven-week period last year when Sharapova held the top spot) and won nearly $20 million in career prize money.
"She was a great champion," said Williams, who lost to Henin in a contentious 2003 French Open quarterfinal, "and she gave me a world of trouble."
The only Grand Slam title to elude Henin is Wimbledon, where she was runner-up in 2001 and 2006.
Henin at a glance
Singles titles: 41
Grand Slam titles: 7 ('03, '05, '06, '07 French; '03, '07 US Open; '04 Australian)
Record: 493-107 (.822)
Prize money: $19,461,375
Weeks ranked No. 1: 117