BRUSSELS: Belgium's Justine Henin has admitted that she is struggling to come to terms with her enforced retirement from professional tennis.
Henin, who retired from the sport for a two-year spell in 2008, was forced into retirement last month due to a nagging elbow injury that had compounded her efforts to compete with the world's best.
Although the 29-year-old says all she wants to do now is enjoy life, the French-speaking Belgian admits being forced off the courts is hard.
“I regard ending my career more like a sentence that's been handed down than a decision I've made,” Henin said here on Monday, in her first press conference since she exited the Australian Open, in pain, at the third round last month.
“I've had to deal with a lot of injuries throughout my career but this time, at 29, I just can't go on.”
After her return from retirement early in 2010, former world number one Henin suffered a partial ligament fracture in her right elbow when she slipped while playing a fourth-round clash against compatriot Kim Clijsters at Wimbledon, requiring an operation.
She returned to the courts in October, aiming to start the 2011 campaign fit and hoping to add to her seven Grand Slam and 43 singles titles, only for the pain to return during the Australian Open.
“You have to be reasonable about things. When I came back from Australia, I had consultations with three different doctors,” she added.
“The will is there, but physically I can't do it.”
She added: “It got to the point that I needed 10 minutes in the morning just to get my elbow functional.
“The ligament wasn't solid enough to handle the intensity of the game. For me, it's like a sentence. Now I have to mourn the end of my career.”
Henin admits her priority is to now lead as normal a life as possible.
“I'm going to miss all the great feelings you have as a professional tennis player. I hope I'll pick the racquet up again one day, but more than anything I want to live a normal life.”
Faced with doping rumours following her first retirement, Henin says she has nothing to hide.
“That hurts me, and all the people who have been part of my entourage. I can't accept that, nor will I forget or forgive. I have never cheated,” she added.
Flemish-speaking Clijsters, who also returned to the sport after retirement, on Monday became the world number one.
Henin, once described by American great Andre Agassi as “one of the most talented women ever to have played the game of tennis”, could only offer her congratulations.
“What Kim has achieved is extraordinary,” added Henin.
“But I have always followed my own path and never based my career on what she has been doing.”