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Family shares in Henin's latest Grand Slam title

PARIS -- Justine Henin has the best all-court game in the business, but until recently she was achingly incomplete in another, less visible way.

Henin, 25, lost her mother to cancer 12 years ago. Five years later, she cut herself off from her father and two older brothers.

Until Saturday, that estrangement remained a taboo subject for reporters who chronicled Henin's rise to the highest levels of the sport. She exuded self-sufficiency and insisted on privacy. In the locker room, she was considered an aloof, austere presence.

The only continuity in her personal life, it seemed, was her 11-year professional relationship with coach Carlos Rodriguez. That was cast into even starker relief after her announcement late last year that she was splitting up with her husband of four years.

Saturday, Henin won her fourth French Open title, overwhelming Ana Ivanovic of Serbia 6-1, 6-2 in 65 minutes. The match was remarkable for its dispatch but also for Henin's open embrace of her family, back in touch and at her side after seven years of silence.

Henin tossed her racket in the air after smacking a forehand winner on match point, then grabbed the net and doubled over. Given the command she showed on the court, her reaction must have come out of something other than disbelief.

Minutes later, Henin turned to face her two older brothers and younger sister and addressed them, along with her father Jose, watching on television in Belgium. "I want to dedicate this victory to my family," she said. "I missed you. I want to offer this victory to you. I love you with all my heart."

It was a brave and atypical public declaration that speaks worlds about how Henin has evolved from an athlete who looked exclusively dead ahead to a woman whose personal struggles have improved her depth perception.

I want to dedicate this victory to my family. I missed you. I want to offer this victory to you. I love you with all my heart.

Justine Henin

It makes her a more sympathetic figure. It may also make her an even more formidable player. If she can handle the twin traumas of divorce and the disruptive joy of reuniting with her family, imagine how she'll play when things settle down.

"I've been a little bit surprised, because it's been hard for me, everything I lived in the last few months, ups and downs," she said.

Henin has reached her elevated stature in the sport by winning, but it took yet another terrible brush with personal loss to prod her to repair the long-eroded foundations of her family life. The reconciliation began when her brother David, who runs a tavern with brother Thomas in Liege, Belgium, was gravely injured in a car accident that left him in a coma for two days in early April.

Their younger sister Sarah, who has maintained some contact with Justine over the years, called her. Shortly after David regained consciousness, she came to see him in the hospital.

"It was very moving," said David Henin, a short, stocky man with an easy laugh, as he stood in the players' lounge at Philippe Chatrier stadium with a beer in his hand. "It really boosted my morale. It was something horrible that turned into something good.

"We were apart a long time. Too long. It was very, very powerful."

Like his sister, David Henin talks a mile a minute. "We all do everything fast," he said. "Speak fast, eat fast, drink fast." He thought for a second. "Win fast," he added.

The family had dinner together 10 days before the tournament began, and Justine invited them to come to Roland Garros. Her siblings had not seen her play since 1999, although Thomas Henin, her 31-year-old brother, said they followed her on television.

He said they asked themselves -- and her -- whether their presence might be a distraction. "She assured us that it was OK," he said.

Neither brother would discuss any specifics of what led to the original break.

"With the happiness of today, everything else is in the past and forgotten," Thomas Henin said.

But they offered something perhaps more valuable -- a few hints of Henin as a girl, the long-missing brushstrokes from her portrait. "She was always serious," Thomas Henin said. "Too serious."

Brother David described an 8-year-old girl who applied herself in school and jumped rope madly, "because she needed to," he said. "When she has a goal, she does what she has to to get there."

The Henins have endured a lot for one family. A toddler sister was killed when a drunk driver hit her in their grandparents yard before any of the other siblings were born. That was followed by the loss of their mother Francoise and Justine's subsequent departure from their life.

David Henin recounted all this with no self-pity.

"These things happen to a lot of families, but with us it was more public," he said. "[Justine] is well-known, she is a professional athlete. It wasn't a question of forgiving each other. We reconciled.

"I've noticed lately that she seems to be having more fun, she's laughing, she's taking more pleasure in what she's doing."

We've noticed too. Henin smiled almost teasingly when she declined to reveal the contents of several envelopes she opened during and after the match. They contained notes from Rodriguez. Most were about tactics, she said. As for the last one, "I'm going to keep it for me," Henin said.

Fair enough. But Henin opened up Saturday about one of the most intimate parts of her life, and whether she's ready for it or not, we're far more likely to see her as a whole rather than the sum of her shots.

Bonnie DeSimone is a freelancer who is covering the French Open for ESPN.com.