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The Belgians are Back in Town

Posted on 17th January 2010. 2 Comments

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Alex Dibble looks forward to the new Tennis season…

On 6 May 2007 Kim Clijsters announced her immediate retirement from the game of tennis. A year later, her compatriot and world no. 1 Justine Henin followed suite, to the shock and disappointment of fans across the world. Between them they had won 8 Grand Slams, and their absence created a power vacuum in the women’s game.

However, top sportsmen and women these days are renowned for being hopelessly unable to extinguish the lingering flame of competitiveness following a withdrawal from the professional arena. In May 2009 Clijsters walked out onto Centre Court at Wimbledon, alongside Tim Henman, Steffi Graf, and Andre Agassi to test the new roof. Her preparations for the exhibition match began her return. “I like it that much I was on to my training schedule from my pro days and then the hunger for more comes automatically.”

By September, the 2005 US Open champion was lifting the trophy for a second time at Flushing Meadows: only the second mother to win Grand Slam title in the Open era. It was a truly remarkable performance, coming only a month after her first professional match in over 2 years. A little over a week later, on 22 September, Justine Henin declared that she would also be returning to the court. “I discovered a lot of things about myself, and then there was a flame that was re-lit which I had thought had been put out forever.”

On Saturday 9 January this year the two Belgians met in the final of the Brisbane International. Henin had two match points, but Clijsters won the pulsating encounter on a final set tie-break. With the Australian Open just around the corner, both will be amongst the favourites to win the competition. More importantly for the sport in general, the women’s game possesses the quality at the top to provide some serious entertainment for the first time in three years.

Sharapova has appeared to get the better of her troublesome shoulder in time for the new season, and goes into the Melbourne event alongside the Williams sisters, Dinara Safina, Elena Dementieva, and the two comeback queens as serious contenders.

Purists will also welcome the sight of Henin on court for the reason that she possesses the beautiful, classical technique so rarely found in modern power-players. With the retirement of Amelie Mauresmo, the only other top-level exponent of the single-handed backhand on the female tour, Henin’s return will be a sight for sore eyes (the 2006 Wimbledon final between the two was a triumph of skill and spin, and a welcome release from the grunting so often heard in major finals).   Henin intent on adding an elusive Wimbledon title to her record, the new season also promises great things for British fans. Having seen Roger Federer complete the ‘career Grand Slam’ by winning the French Open in 2009, the petite Belgian set her sights on SW19, and her effort in the summer wil give extra incentive to head down to the All England Club for some live sport.

Fans in the UK can also look forward to seeing whether Andy Murray can finally break his Grand Slam duck. The potential we know is there, but Djokovic, del Potro, Davadenko, Roddick, and the Big Two will provide a serious challenge, which, should Murray fall short, will nevertheless serve up tennis of the highest quality.

If anyone fancies looking clever in a year or two, keeping a close eye on Laura Robson’s progress this year would be a good idea. The 15 year old was victorious over the world no. 26 in the Hopman Cup, and will be looking to make the most of a wildcard into the Australian Open qualifying  rounds. The most encouraging indicator that a great season lies in store is that, going into the first Grand Slam of the year, a winner is impossible to chose from both the male and female draws. Despite this however, you would have to brave to bet against a Belgian winning the women’s competition.

Alex Dibble

2 Comments »

  • Shola Ameobi said:

    are all Belgians child molesters?

    this is relevant to my interests as I like touching children and am considering moving to Belgium

  • Nile Ranger said:

    A very good report Mr Dibble. I found their final in Brisbane one of the best games i’ve seen in a while. Great to see a British girl doing well also…did very well in the Hopman cup, and it was murray in the end who let down the team in the final. Good result from him in the first round but hes been handed a very tough draw and would do well to make it even to the final.

    Love,
    Nile