I never got a chance to write about Justine in any meaningful way here on Forty Deuce. She retired (the first time) before I started the blog and by the time she started back up, I was kind of too distracted to care. Or maybe I was hoping if I ignored her long enough she'd just up and go away.
A little over a year ago, despite her emphatic reassurances to the contrary, Justine decided she just couldn't live without staring at Carlos and donning her extra-small Competition kit and returned to the tour, beating anyone whose name didn't rhyme with Schmim Schmysters or Berena Billiams. Right out of the block she made the finals of Brisbane (losing to Kim) and the finals of the Australian Open (losing to Serena). Sure she lost both those matches but she played well, really pushed her old rivals, and sent a clear message that one year later, she belonged in the top echelon of the WTA. You felt like it was inevitable that she'd be back in a Slam final and possibly hoisting one fairly soon.
"AUGH YOU'RE SO ANNOYING WITH YOUR MOUTH HERP AND YOUR GOOD TENNIS" I would cry out, shaking my fists at no one in particular. It was both therapeutic and Tourettesian.
But January 2010 would pretty much be the highlight of her comeback. She'd keep losing to Kim, and suffering weird injuries (broken finger at Fed Cup) and surprising losses (YOU LOST TO SAM STOSUR! ON CLAY! YOU! WHAT???). But she healed up and went for the one Slam she didn't have, the one Slam that she made clear she came back to win: Wimbledon.
Of course she would suffer an injury against, of all people, KIM. Her season was over and she had to sit in her minimally decorated house atop her modernly European-styled white leather couch that doesn't even look like something that can sat on (clearly I think she lives in the Nuni/Nuni house), icing her elbow while Kim destroyed the field in New York and raised yet another trophy. Kim was like "cool". Jada was like "this is boring, we did this already. I want a pony and a bottle of Jack." Justine was like "FUCK YOU AND YOUR FAMILY AND YOUR WINNING AND SHIT."
I mean, my creative writing style aside, you really have to feel for Justine and you can definitely understand her emo head-space. Here's a woman who had a childhood that forced her to toughen up and keep distance from people in order to protect her fragile emotions, busted her ass to compete with her bigger, more naturally gifted peers, reached the pinnacle of the sport and through it all, built a resume that will ensure she'll be considered among the best tennis players of all time.
All that and yet she felt she was still lacking. She looked at Serena, a naturally gifted athlete, who could come into a Slam with no preparation, looking unfit, and still demolish a field. She looked at Maria Sharapova, whose early success had turned her into a multi-millionaire face of tennis.
And of course, she looked to Kim. Kim who seemed sometimes flighty, who I'm sure Justine thought didn't work as hard as she did, and yet she was the one who had the family that Justine keeps saying she wants. That was probably all fine and dandy when Justine was widely considered the better tennis player. But once Kim came back and established herself as, possibly, the best player on tour, that surely lit the fire.
But it wasn't to be. Her propensity to retire after losses is kinda comical. I mean, she lost to Dinara in Berlin and retired a week later as if she couldn't possibly believe she lost to DINARA FUCKING SAFINA on European red clay. I mean if you you're going to lose that fat Russian, you might as well quit, right? Here she lost to Sveta in straight sets, a player against whom she was 16-2 and hadn't lost to on hard courts since 2004. Regardless of her elbow injury, which she admits made her less than 100% for the tournament, that had to be a psychologically devastating loss.
People can argue about the timing of her announcement, about why she'd announce it while a major tournament was still going on. I don't really care about that. I'm more curious as to how, within a week of losing to Sveta, she was able to get back to Belgium, see a doctor, get test results back, and definitively learn that she couldn't play tennis anymore. That just seems so quick and if I were a suspicious person, I would suspect that there's more to this story than just a bum elbow. That being said, if you're done playing tennis, you're done playing tennis. I don't think anyone should second-guess that decision.
Justine's a polarizing, complicated figure, there's no doubt about that. But one thing the haters could never argue about was her tennis ability. She was good at tennis. She competed hard. She had that steely resolve that so many of us wish our headcasey players had 1/10th of. For that she's absolutely earned the respect and accolades that I hope she gets. It's a huge loss for the sport. She was a great player to be a fan of and a great player to not be a fan of. I, for one, will miss her as my comic foil. She was my WTA Sod. But with less devil-face and more I-see-dead-people-face.
Happy trails, Juju. I sincerely hope you find whatever you're looking for.