The women's game is dynamic and unpredictable - but it needs rivalries

Justine Henin
Justine Henin wants consistency at the top of the women's game - Getty Images

It's an exciting time in the women's game but we need more rivalries. The fans love rivalries. It's the perfect story when you have three or four women consistently at the top like there has been in the men's game over the last 10-15 years. Below that you have the biggest challengers and then one or two surprise results or surprise names. That’s what makes it a really great show and causes the excitement.

I'd love to be able to look back at the end of the year and say there were four or five big matches where players were facing each other regularly and it was hard to pick a winner. That would mean both players would have been playing regularly at their best level. We dream of that. We are very demanding, but we have missed that in the women's game. We need the level to keep improving and we need that consistency but I have a feeling that something more stable is in movement right now.

Ashleigh Barty took a bit more of the lead on the circuit last year, but before that we've seen players struggle to mantain that level and not being able to succeed after becoming world No 1. I was a bit more negative about the state of the women's game 12 months ago, but it has been very interesting over the last few months.

There will be a lot of expectations from the home fans, but I’m impressed with the way she handles the pressure. She's very smart emotionally. She stays really cool and calm and enjoys being in the moment. After winning Roland Garros she stayed at the top and won the WTA Finals. Her story is great as she took time away from tennis and has come back to the top. It's one we can take inspiration from.

Then there's Serena Williams. It’s amazing that after so many years the motivation and passion are still there and she remains so strong mentally too. Of course she has been chasing this record-equalling grand slam for a little while. But she has been there in grand slam finals and competing so hard. Just because she hasn’t won a major lately we say perhaps she hasn’t been at her best, but who else could do that? She’s so strong mentally.

Serena Williams won her first title since becoming a mother in Auckland in the build up to the Australian Open Credit: AP

I feel very old when I'm reminded that I won the Australian Open 16 years ago. In some ways it feels like it was yesterday. I always loved playing there. It's the start of the season so you're feeling fresh and you want to be back on the circuit and Australia love their sport and create a great atmosphere.

It's also the time of year when a lot of things can happen. It's not easy for the players. You have to get back into the rhythm again. Even if you've build a strong career, you have a feeling of starting again.

Justine Henin won the Australian Open in 2004 with victory over Kim Clijsters Credit: AFP

Australia is a place where physically it can be hard because the weather, as we have seen, is really difficult and demanding. This can bring a lot of surprises, but fans love to watch the drama. It's what makes this grand slam so special.

Caroline Wozniacki will be retiring after the Australian Open and will be missed by the whole tour. It's a big step, but she'll be starting a new life after tennis which is also fantastic.

The life of a tennis player is a good one, but there are sacrifices and when it finishes you need to understand who you are again, and how you can live without being at the top level because it takes 99 per cent of your life. But it is fantastic to concentrate on something new, and I’m sure it’s going to be great.

Just as Caroline retires, Kim Clijsters will be returning, although she misses the Australian Open through injury. I was as surprised as everyone when she made the announcement. She probably needed a lot of courage to make that decision and you have to admire that. It’s going to be hard. Not nearly because she’s 36, but because she stopped for so many years. To come back with the level of the game today is going to be difficult.

It doesn’t make me think about returning. I have that bit of distance from tennis now but I have my academy and I like working with the young players. Who knows they could be part of the next generation. 

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