They are promoting the great women champions of the past at Roland Garros this year. All are there, their pictures pinned to the fence along the boulevard leading to the grand old home of the French Open: seven-time winner Chris Evert; Steffi Graf with her six titles; Margaret Court; Martina Navratilova. And Monica Seles, the only one since the Second World War to have won this Grand Slam three straight years.
As she arrived by courtesy car on Friday, Justine Henin will not have failed to notice this tribute to her predecessors and doubtless wondered whether she will be up there alongside Monica in a fortnight's time as a hat-trick heroine at this, her favourite tournament in this, her favourite city.
Three times in the past four years Paris has acclaimed Justine Henin-Hardenne as its women's champion. This time the top seed and firm favourite is plain Henin, her husband, Pierre-Yves Hardenne, having been excised from her life, a life that had already proved tough and bleak enough without such added sadness and stress. The scars remain plain to see in the cautious way she considers questions and in her calculating eyes and Gordon Brown smile, despite the insistence that what she calls "my personal issues" are behind her.
That she still sums up her life as "a fight" is to be expected of this stripling of five-and-a-half feet who turns 25 on Friday. "I have this image of being a girl not as tall as the others, not as strong as the others," she said. "But I am also much stronger than others on some occasions. I don't want to be thinking I have to [seek] revenge. I want to share my emotions with people. You know, this is an emotional job that we have."
Having skipped the Australian Open in January because of the marital rupture, the Belgian comes to Roland Garros on the back of a curtailed schedule: six tournaments played, three of them won, with a match record of 22-3. It is, she claims, enough for her purpose. "At 25 I am not that young any more on the tour, although it is very young in my life. My body doesn't recover as well as it did five years ago, and I understand and accept that, so I am not afraid any more of going into a tournament without any preparation. I don't have to play a lot to be at my best level. Now I've found a good balance, I won't be playing as much as in the past. …