Justine Henin’s Backhand: Music of the Spheres by David Linebarger

Brooke Hunter, Justine Henin’s Backhand

I watch Justine in slow motion, the transfer of weight from back to front foot, the coiling uncoiling of the legs the hips the shoulders the core. (Is it true she did a thousand sit ups a day?) Justine’s one-handed backhand, “the most beautiful shot in tennis” (John McEnroe). If all life could be as anticipated yet unexpected. If all life could be so powerful yet loose, free flowing. If we could somehow record all the spectators’ sighs in the world’s stadiums the moment after. If we could record all these sighs, apply the Zen of John Cage, the minimalism of Steve Reich, the ensuing music would be as sacred as Palestrina’s a cappella masses, as mysterious as the sound of whales. 

Discarded lines, Detritus:

1. When a woman slaps a man, she does not slap him with the back of her hand. The backhanded swing lacks power, is unnatural to the human form.

2. “Pound for pound, Justine the best player of her generation” (Billie Jean King).

3.  I never saw Justine’s backhand live, but I remember sighs from 2,000 spectators after every Gasquet one-hander waved its baton to an orchestra of fans on an intimate US Open court.


Currently a Professor of Humanities, David Linebarger’s publications include poetry, creative nonfiction, and scholarship in over thirty journals as well as two short books of poetry. His current book project is entitled Tennis Players as Works of Art.
Read more of David’s work at
Tennis Players as Works of Art.

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. Terveen Gill says:

    David’s writing delivers a solid and remarkable volley. Justine Henin’s backhand couldn’t have been described more creatively or beautifully. Tennis is known to be a game of power and grace. This piece is a perfect ace.
    Congratulations David!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. elcieloyelinfierno says:

    Brilliant entrance !! Meticulous reading of all Justine’s movements, making a parallel with human emotions. A cordial greeting.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. brittabenson says:

    This is a very interesting read. I have to admit, my tennis knowledge is not entirely up to scratch, so I had to google Justine. You learn something knew every day. I can now say, that I do enjoy tennis prose. Very eloquent and intriguing, David. I had a look at your ‘Tennis Players as Works of Art’ website and will certainly be back. This has opened up a whole new field of interest for me. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Learned so much within those few lines. Totally captured the graceful movements of a tennis game. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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