THE INIMITABLE Bud Collins once christened Justine Henin the Little Backhand That Could. As nicknames go, it was perfect. Standing 5'5", Henin often spotted opponents six or eight inches in height. But zinging a gorgeous backhand, deploying a diversified portfolio of shots and, most important, possessing unmatched reserves of determination, the Belgian came to rule women's tennis. In this decade, no player has won more major titles than Henin; no player has held the top ranking longer. But, suddenly, the Little Backhand That Could, couldn't.
In a move that was both shocking and unsurprising, Henin announced on May 14 that she was immediately retiring from tennis. This took the notion of going out on top to an extreme. Henin decided to leave tennis at age 25, comfortably ensconced as the WTA's No. 1--ranked player—she'd held the spot for 117 weeks—and two weeks away from gunning for a fourth straight French Open title. She is the defending U.S. Open and Olympic champ as well.
Yet anyone who watched Henin this year could see that something had gone out of her. She was not only losing but losing with an absence of fight. After getting pasted by Serena Williams last month, Henin admitted that she lacked courage in the match. "I really fought these last few months to try for a miracle and to get back this desire and flame," she said last week. "But I realized I was at the end of my road."
Henin's retirement underscores an irony the WTA now faces. The women's game has elevated itself to an excruciating sport being played by truly elite athletes. But a by-product is that the level of play exacts a hell of a price on the competitors. So much so that when the top-ranked player feels she can't commit fully, she figures she may as well quit. For most players there is no longer such a thing as cruise control. The Pollyannas are already predicting that Henin will follow the path of Martina Hingis and Lindsay Davenport and unretire before long. But the more telling comment came from new No. 1 Maria Sharapova. Told of Henin's retirement, Sharapova, 21, empathized: "If I'm 25 and I'd won [seven] Grand Slams, I'd call it quits too."
May 25, 2008
On the Road with ... MIKE TYSON
MIKE TYSON is intimately familiar with life in the can—the ex-champ has done prison time on three occasions. Life in Cannes, however, is a different story. Iron Mike, 41, was in the French seaside resort last week for its annual film festival and the premiere of Tyson, a documentary about his life by writer-director James Toback (Fingers, The Pick-Up Artist). After the screening last Friday a visibly moved Tyson stood before a crowd that gave the film a standing ovation. "I've never experienced anything like this in my whole career," he said. "It's kind of intimidating."
In the film Toback, who has known the fighter for 23 years, intersperses footage from the days when Tyson seemed scared of nothing with clips from an emotional interview done while Tyson was undergoing drug and alcohol treatment last year. ("I may have taken advantage of women before, but not of that woman," Tyson says of the woman he was convicted of raping in 1992. "That [conviction, for which he served three years] still bothers me.") The reviews out of Cannes have been raves; moviegoers can judge for themselves when Tyson is released in the U.S. later this year. And Tyson apparently hasn't gotten introspection out of his system: He says he's working on a memoir with veteran ghostwriter Larry Sloman.
Consecutive scoreless innings thrown by Indians starters from May 9 to May 15, the longest rotation scoreless streak since Baltimore starters went 54 innings without allowing a run in September 1974.
Wins by Diamondbacks righthander Brandon Webb in his first nine starts, the majors' longest winning streak without a no-decision to start a season since San Diego's Andy Hawkins won his first 10 starts in 1985.
No-decisions for Astros righthander Shawn Chacon in his first nine starts, the longest decisionless streak to start a season in major league history.
Points scored by Los Angeles Sparks forward and 2008 No. 1 draft pick Candace Parker in a win over the Phoenix Mercury last Saturday, the most ever by a player making her WNBA debut.
Months in prison that Olympic gold medalist Tim Montgomery, 33, was sentenced to last Friday for his role in a check-fraud scheme; the ex-sprinter pleaded guilty last year.
Postseason games played by Spurs forward Robert Horry through Sunday, an NBA record; Horry, 37, has made the playoffs in all 16 of his NBA seasons.