The International Tennis Hall of Fame officially welcomed two more WTA legends into the Hall of Fame family as seven-time Grand Slam champion Justine Henin was joined by Class of ’15’s Amélie Mauresmo were honored on Saturday’s Enshrinement Ceremony. Former No.1 Dinara Safina was also on hand to celebrate brother Marat’s own induction into the ITHF.
An Australian Open and Wimbledon champion – both in 2006 – Mauresmo was voted into the Hall of Fame last year, but was unable to attend the ceremony due to the birth of her son, Aaron.
The official enshrinement proved more than worth the wait for the Frenchwoman, who was introduced by former manager and WTA President, Micky Lawler.
“My heart is beating faster than it was on championship point for Amélie’s legendary 2006 Wimbledon title,” she began.
“Amélie’s superior game at the net, her elegance, and ease of movement are greatly missed. Among her unique qualities are her intelligence, her continuous drive for excellence, and her passion for a happy life. She is an extraordinary mom, armed with great compassion and an unmatched sense of humor. Amélie is the Queen of Hearts.
“For those of you who don’t know Amélie: when you call her, you are 100% certain of getting her voicemail with a recording that says, ‘If you’d like to leave a message, fine. But I will never call you back!’ – with great emphasis on ‘jamais.’
“Many who think they know her mistake her so-called ‘nerves’ or ‘uncertain trepidation,’ when in reality, she is first, incredibly respectful of her opponent, and second, as courageous as a lion, and as strong as her beloved little Aaron over there.”
Lawler went on to tell the story of helping align Mauresmo’s unique appeal with Reebok.
“As the No.1 player in the world in 2005, she was playing without a footwear or apparel contract, which is unheard of in our industry – especially if I am the manager. Sitting on that grassy area, I could feel Amélie’s disappointment and sadness by a certain lack of acceptance that was completely unjust. She had done everything right, but felt that the industry didn’t really believe in her.
“Reebok had just launched the campaign, ‘I Am What I Am,’ and that campaign was made for Amélie Mauresmo. With the help and unwavering support of the Reebok team, led by our extraordinary Dianne Hayes, we had Amélie’s beaming face on thousands of buses in Paris. Her smile said to millions of kids, ‘Live your life honestly. Live it fully, and live it with passion. Play to win, work hard, and never give up.'”
Mauresmo later took the stage and showed off that signature sense of humor with aplomb.
“You guys can call me; I’ll call you back, don’t worry!
“I’d to thank the Hall of Fame for postponing my induction and giving me the opportunity to be here with you today with my family. I’m a bit late, but it was worth it!
The Frenchwoman closed with an emotional plea for peace in the face of the Bastille Day attack in Nice.
“In Paris, Brussels, Tel Aviv. It has to stop. The only thing we can do to continue to be free, continue to be happy.”
Henin closed the ceremony after being introduced by Monica Seles, the only other woman to capture a hat trick of French Open titles, and the first big name to practice with a then-17-year-old Belgian back in 1999.
“As a fellow competitor of Justine,” Seles said, “what I always respected about her as I watched her rise from a junior to professional is that she never changed as a person. Justine’s journey reveals the power of a single person’s desire to achieve greatness in his or her own way.”
At 5’6″, Henin stood tall as she took the podium to tell her story of watching Seles win the third of her French Open titles, where she defeated Stefanie Graf in 1992.
“At six years old, I grew up in a small village in Belgium. I’d jump up and down on the bed like I won the French Open. But watching these two incredible women fighting with respect, passion, and dedication, it was a wonderful inspiration for me. I turned to my mom and told her that one day, I too would compete for this title.”
Just over a decade later, Henin fulfilled the promise she made to mother, Francoise – who had died of cancer when she was 12 – by defeating compatriot Kim Clijsters in the 2003 Roland Garros final.
“We were very lucky to be there at the same time,” she said earlier in the press conference. “I always say I wouldn’t have been the player I was without Kim. It was challenging being from a small country and being almost the same age. We traveled a lot together when we were young and were pretty close. When we became rivals on the tour, it became more competitive, but the respect was always there.
“Because of and with Kim, I was able to accomplish a lot of things. Seeing her succeed made me think I could do the same. Being No.1 and No.2 from a small country made the story different and made it more beautiful. She pushed me to get better and improve. It made us better players than we might have been.”
Safina was sitting in the front row of that very press conference as Marat was asked which of the brother-sister tandem was the better tennis player.
“What a stupid question! Of course, sister! Unfortunately, we weren’t so close when we were younger, because when I left for Spain at 14, she was eight. We were seeing each other only at Grand Slams, and it was a real pity that we couldn’t spend so much time together. We didn’t know each other and after a while we didn’t feel like brother and sister at some point because we were separated.
“Now we’re having a great time and finally I get to know her. She had great potential. Too bad she couldn’t make a Grand Slam winner, but she understands tennis much more than me, and she’s a better person.”