JUSTINE Henin confirmed her status at the top of the women's game on Saturday with a US Open singles victory that the player believes could be her most significant triumph.
“This one is maybe the most important one,” the 25-year-old Belgian told reporters after securing a seventh Grand Slam title with an emphatic 6-1, 6-3 win over former champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.
“I had a lot of things to prove to myself – not to anyone else, just to myself. And I did it.”
Henin ended any debate over who would be the player of the year by adding a second US Open title to the fourth French Open championship she snared in June, crowning a year that began with both a divorce and a reconciliation with her family.
“I'm just feeling happy. And the fact that I have my family back in my life helps a lot,” the world number one added.
“They give me a lot of support. I'm feeling in peace with myself and that's a very important feeling for me.”
On the court, the 5ft-5in (1.67m), 126-pound (57kg) dynamo eliminated Australian Open champion Serena Williams in the quarters, and Wimbledon winner Venus Williams in the semis to emerge as the only player to capture two slams this season.
“I'm really proud. Not being that tall and I can compete and be the best player in the world. Not a lot of people really thought I could do it and that's why I'm really proud of it.”
Henin, who climbed into the stands to hug her longtime coach Carlos Rodriguez, said he had a major role in the triumph.
“Carlos has been the only one that told me every day, 'You can do it, you can be the number one player in the world.'
“Not a lot of people thought I could win this Open with the draw I had and I did it. It's amazing for me.”
Henin, showing greater power than ever at Flushing Meadows with an improved serve and penetrating groundstrokes off both wings, said winning on the hard courts was also satisfying.
“It's been good for me to win on another surface than clay this year. That proves a lot of things to myself.”
“When she plays her best game I have to play my best game,” said Kuznetsova, the 2004 US Open champion who trailed 4-0 before most of the 23,733 in the National Tennis Centre had located their seats.
“I didn't play my best game so that's why I lost. I felt I just didn't move to the ball well enough because I was pretty tight. I've got to learn a lot out of this final and improve.”
The intense Belgian said she has grown as a player since capturing the 2003 US title.
“I'm a better player than four years ago, that's for sure,” she said.
“I have four years more experience. I'm more mature. But my muscles feel older a little bit,” she said with a grin.
Henin said she was fatigued after her gruelling match against Venus Williams in Friday's semi-finals.
“I think she was the other big favourite,” she said.
“And we proved it with the match we played yesterday, because it was a high-quality match.
“Beating Venus, Serena, then to win this way today, gives me a lot of confidence,” added Henin, who became the only player to beat both Williams sisters on the way to winning a grand slam.
For Henin, success has been like a fairy tale.
“When I was a little girl, I was dreaming of winning just one grand slam in my career and I won seven. It's still hard to believe that I did that. It's more than a dream.” – Reuters