An interview with:
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. Was that the ideal match leading into a Grand Slam final for you?
JUSTINE HENIN: Well, yeah, if we see that I've been playing a lot of tough matches in the last two weeks, that was the best to recover today.
I knew it could be a dangerous match. Grand Slam semifinal is always very special because, you know, it's the last before the big final. Especially in my situation, that I was very excited about, yeah, the possibility of being in another Grand Slam final.
I knew I had to be really careful about that match. I've been very focused, very concentrate. I did my job perfectly well. That worked pretty good.
So, uhm, that's a great feeling, of course. Very excited about what's going to come up for me and can't wait for it now.
Q.When do you start thinking about Saturday's final?
JUSTINE HENIN: Well, I knew, yeah, there was an opportunity for me. But as we could see in the past also, sometimes, even if you think you're gonna be into it, like it happened in Wimbledon in 2007, sometimes you have big surprises. So I knew I had to be really focused on every point and be aggressive and have the good attitude.
So when the match was over, I could think, Okay, I'm in the final now. Just can celebrate this tonight, I mean, very easily, just enjoy it, and then tomorrow start to prepare Saturday's match.
Q. Are you surprised it's taken you so long to play Serena in a Grand Slam final?
JUSTINE HENIN: We've never played in a Grand Slam final in the past. It's my first Grand Slam since I'm back, and we're already there. So it's more than a dream. I mean, I'm so happy to play against her because if I want to win another Grand Slam, I'll have to beat the best player of the world. And that's just the biggest challenge I could get.
I have to be honest, I didn't really expect that. But now that's a reality that is coming. I will try to be at my best.
Q. How do you look at your rivalry with Serena?
JUSTINE HENIN: Well, I think a lot of respect for who she is, what she did. She is a real champion. She proved it again in this tournament. Has been in trouble, and she had the reaction of, yeah, the greatest champions. A real fighter. Never gives up. And I think she really helped the game to come at another level. And she really helped women's tennis a lot. She's still there with an amazing attitude.
I think we respect each other a lot for that. We're both real fighters. We want to win. And I think maybe we helped each other, yeah, to get better. So it's a good one.
Q. What was the exact moment you decided to come back? Was there something that triggered it?
JUSTINE HENIN: Well, it didn't come like in a second. It's been something that I felt slowly but surely. Different things, I mean, different steps. Like I said, it was important for me just to be away to know myself better and to have different kind of answers. And when I got this, I thought I was ready to come back to what I love so much.
I'm still very proud ‑ again ‑ of what I'm doing. That's a good thing.
Q. Had you made a decision before Kim won the US Open?
JUSTINE HENIN: Yeah, it was way before that. It was probably mid‑July, so it was a long time before that.
Q. How did you look at Kim winning that last year?
JUSTINE HENIN: Like I said, I have a lot of respect for what she did because it's not easy, and she has been an amazing level very quickly, beating Venus and Serena in the same tournament. We all know it's not easy. And she confirmed that again in the final.
So it was just fantastic what she did. Well, I hope I can do the same, of course. But it's gonna be the toughest part that is coming. We'll see.
Q. The last two weeks your body has taken more of a beating than it has been in the last couple years. Is it because you had a few years without that that makes you more fresh going into the final or because your body is not used to it does it make it less fresh?
JUSTINE HENIN: I don't know what's gonna happen. It's gonna happen. It's very hard to talk about that.
Of course, I want to play. I'm fresh mentally and emotionally. Even if it took me a lot of energy in the last few weeks to come back and play my first matches and face all of this again. It's coming very early for me, you know, to be in a Grand Slam final. It's a lot of things to deal with.
So that took some energy, of course, in the last few weeks. Didn't know what was going to happen. Then started to win matches. A tough draw here. Had to deal with, yeah, a Grand Slam, which is always different. So it's been already a lot of pressure.
But my body's fine, I think. Well, it's the last one for this tournament, so I'm gonna give everything, of course.
Q. How proud are you of what you've been able to do?
JUSTINE HENIN: Well, I'm really happy, of course, and really proud. It's because I know where I'm coming from, and it's been hard in the last few months. I've worked so hard. Now, you know, I know why I did it: it's to be here and have this possibility again.
But the way is still very long. I have a lot of things to improve on. I know I'm not yet at what I can produce. But we have a lot of things to work on with my coach and we're going to go back home and get ready for the next tournaments. I think we can see a lot of things already. So that's very positive. Well, if I can go back home with another title, that would be more than a dream, of course.
Q. When you spoke earlier about lowering your expectations, was that realistic, or do you feel like you can do something special? Do you feel this is a bridge too far to get to the final?
JUSTINE HENIN: Well, I really went step by step. I mean, I knew everyone was curious about what I was going to do on the court. I just tried to be really focused on myself. I was curious myself. Just tried to get a good preparation. That's what I did.
I've been in trouble in the last few matches, but I've been able to play well on the important points. But it wasn't in my mind that I could, you know, go till the end, of course.
But it is something very special already for me to be here, being in the final again here in Melbourne. It's only good memories from the past. Even if I had to retire in 2006, I have another chance. It's just great for me.
Q. Kim came back as a mother. You came back without being a mother. Do you see a huge difference? Also, have you thought that you could become a mother, stop, and come back another time?
JUSTINE HENIN: It's a lot of questions (laughter).
Well, I'm not quite sure I could do it, you know, having a child and then coming back on the tour. But there are no rules. It's so personal. I have a lot of respect about the fact that Kim, I mean, I think it's brave to do it, to travel with a child, to deal with being a mom and a tennis player, I think it's not easy. So it's great what she's doing.
In my situation, I think it wasn't something that I could do. It's my life being on the tour now. I hope one day to have my family, but it's going to be another step in my life.
Q. You said you didn't know how you were going to handle the pressure. How are you handling it?
JUSTINE HENIN: I'm still fine. I'll see tomorrow, on Saturday. But, no, I still think I have to be at the same attitude that I arrived in Australia. I didn't really know what to expect. I wouldn't be honest if I said I don't want to win this tournament now that I'm in the final. But I'll just try to be focused on what I will have to do.
I know I'll have to play a great tennis because Serena in this kind of situation is at her best level all the time. She has to play, in a Grand Slam final, she produce her best. It means I will have to play a great game, yeah, be aggressive, and really want this title. So we'll see if I'm gonna be able to get that.
Q. While you retired, you said you were looking for answers. What sort of answers were you searching for?
JUSTINE HENIN: We all have different kind of issues personally. I had to forget a little about tennis and just get some air and breathe differently. Tennis has been my whole life. I think there is something else than that.
It's more than answers. It's just time to get open to different kind of things. Like I said, I had different kind of projects, met a lot of people, traveling for UNICEF, of course. I mean, I learned a lot of things in these experiences.
Probably the answer I got is that I started to trust myself much more as a person and I realized I could exist without tennis. So that was an important step for me.
Q. Do you think this could be the best answer, this final, which is the real queen of women's tennis?
JUSTINE HENIN: Well, that would be a nice title. But I think we both proved different kind of things in the past. What Serena did was just amazing, and still doing it. And I did my way also on the tour. I think we brought different kind of things to the game. So we both have a different place on the tour.
She is No. 1. I've been No. 1. I hope it's gonna be a great match, really. I hope it's going to be a good atmosphere on the court, that people are going to like the match, and that we can be at our best. That's what I wish for.
Q. Are you a very different person now to what you were two years ago?
JUSTINE HENIN: I can say I'm a different person. I just learned a lot of things and grew up. Maybe a little older, that's it. More mature because of being away from the tour. I think I got off my bubble. It was really important for me, as I feel more in peace now. That's important.
Q. As a teenager, your whole life is tennis...
JUSTINE HENIN: It's difficult. The life we have is difficult because you give everything. I mean, everything is done around that, you know. Now I got the experience I didn't have a few years ago, of course, to understand it. But your whole life is based on your tennis and your career. We do a lot of sacrifices. It's very hard to find a good balance, a lot of stability between the personal life and the professional life.
On the tennis court, we cannot lie. The way we are, the pressure is high, you have to deal and be at your top all the time. That makes it difficult, of course.
Q. Would you recommend others to go off and do other things?
JUSTINE HENIN: It's important, yeah. I think it's important just to realize there are different things away from that. Take some distance sometimes 'cause to relieve the pressure, of course.
Q. The last time you played Serena was Miami 2008.
JUSTINE HENIN: Don't talk to me about that one (smiling).
Q. Just one question about it. It didn't go so well. It was just a little bit before your retirement. Did that match play any specific role in your decision to retire?
JUSTINE HENIN: No, you cannot say it's a match. It's more about all the things I was thinking at the time. It was more process that took a few months, you know. After my victory against her I proved already in Madrid.
This kind of match shows you that you don't feel you're at the right place anymore. I don't have the motivation that I got in the past. It was just the proof to me that I was tired of it at that time.
It's not because I lost that I decided a few weeks later that I should stop. It's because my mind was somewhere else.
Q. How do you describe the difference going into this match?
JUSTINE HENIN: Well, a lot of things have changed. You know what happened in the past is from the past. Everything is so different. Two years since that. I'm back. It's only my second tournament back on the tour, so I know I still need a little bit of time to really find my best level again.
But, well, I have the ambition, of course, as usual. But everything is so different, we cannot compare.
Q. Human beings have the privilege to die once, champions to die twice. You to die three times.
JUSTINE HENIN: That I what?
Q. Athletes have a privilege to die twice, because when they finish their career, then when they really die like other human beings. At least you will die three times. Is that a privilege?
JUSTINE HENIN: It is a privilege. I have the feeling I had three lives already. At 27 years old, to get all these experience is just fantastic. I think being an athlete sport is the best school of life. I learned a lot of things, how to push my limits, to get the determination, to know that things are hard when you want to do it.
I feel lucky. I feel lucky I had this talent, of course. And I feel lucky that I have one more chance to come back and to enjoy it different way than in the past.