International Tennis Hall of Fame: Justine Henin and Marat Safin

Henin and Safin: Backhands To Remember

Justine Henin

Most Vivid Memory – I vividly recall an incredible match versus Jennifer Capriati at the 2003 US Open.  Their semifinal clash seemed to be a match of power versus variety and movement. Both players were excellent in this match.  As was expected, Capriati hit the ball hard, but she also moved and ran as well as she ever did.  Henin moved well and used variety, but she also tapped into some excellent racquet head speed and power.  It was one of the best examples of two players both playing well and producing excellent tennis.

Hall of Fame Entry – Henin was an obvious choice for the Hall of Fame.  She won 7 major titles including four Roland Garros titles.  She also picked up a gold medal in singles at the 2004 olympic games.

Signature Shot – Her one-handed backhand: It was one of the great shots in the history of tennis.

Marat Safin

Most Vivid Memory – The final weekend of the 2000 US Open was a coming out party for Marat Safin.  I remember him winning some matches and  the 1999 Hamlet Cup prior to this point as well as a near miss in Davis Cup versus Jim Courier in 1998.  Still, Safin clobbered Todd Martin in his semifinal match.  At this point, I thought he could beat Sampras, but Pete looked imperious versus Lleyton Hewitt in his semifinal.  What unfolded was one of the most comprehensive demolitions of a legend on a big stage in tennis history.  Safin’s return of serve absorbed much of Sampras’ service power.  Marat’s passing shots were unreal.  His serve was massive.  Most impressively Safin moved around the court with such ease as to allow his power to hit Sampras with precision.  Safin never seemed rushed by Pete’s power that day and made few errors while hitting winners seemingly at will.  As a friend of mine might say, Safin was sensational that and many other days on tour.

Hall of Fame Entry – I concur with Andy Roddick’s assessment that Safin belongs in the International Tennis Hall of Fame.  Safin won the 2000 US Open and the 2005 Australian Open.  He was part of 2 Davis Cup winning efforts by Russia.  He spent time ranked #1 in the world.  He also won 5 Masters 1000 events and had 2 runner-up finishes at the Australian Open.  Safin is certainly ahead of the threshold of several single Grand Slam winners in the hall of fame, but his enshrinement does raise questions about Yevgeny Kafelnikov’s absence.  Is Kafelnikov on some sort of probation/banned list?

Signature Shot – His two-handed backhand: Did anyone ever generate such power on a two-handed backhand with such a simple swing?  The simplicity and ease of Safin’s backhand was a thing of beauty.

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