Justine Henin recounts beating Serena Williams en route to winning first Grand Slam

Henin defeated Williams in the 2003 French Open semifinal.

by Dzevad Mesic
Justine Henin recounts beating Serena Williams en route to winning first Grand Slam

Justine Henin says Serena Williams "had the ability to make you feel small on the court" as the Belgian admitted that she always "felt intimidated" by the American tennis legend. Henin, a former seven-time Grand Slam champion, won her first Major title 20 years ago at the French Open.

En route to landing her first Grand Slam title, Henin had to beat Williams - who at the time already had multiple Grand Slam titles in her collection. Before the start of her 2003 French Open semifinal match, Henin looked herself in the mirror and promised herself she would not allow Williams to easily beat her.

That helped Henin overcome the intimidation factor and beat Williams 6-2 4-6 7-5. Henin later crushed Kim Clijsters in the French Open final to lift her first Grand Slam title.

Henin on overcoming the intimidation factor and beating Williams

"She was the ultimate challenge and I always felt intimidated by her.

This time I said ‘no’. I refused to let her walk all over me. I went into that match with a lot of eagerness and determination. I'd only played one semi-final before at the French Open, in 2001, and I couldn't close it.

I wanted my revenge. But there's a time for everything. There are times you're ready. There are times you're not. I was not in 2001. And finally, things had changed in 2003, maybe I really was ready. The difference between 2001 and 2003 is a question of maturity and experience.

When you face Serena in a Grand Slam, there's what she radiates, there's what she makes radiate around her. She had this aura. I haven't forgotten what she represented even if we did see the greatest Serena in the Grand Slam in recent years.

I was lucky enough to play her at a time when she was at the peak of her career. Yes, she was formidable. She could make you feel so small, really. It was a psychological war against Serena. That's why I always express my gratitude, she was an inspiration because she pushed us all.

I worked harder thanks to her, especially on a purely psychological dimension," Henin wrote for Eurosport's Legends' Voice. In the end, Henin and Williams met 14 times. In those 14 meetings, Henin clinched six wins and eight losses against Williams.

Justine Henin Serena Williams French Open