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Former US Open champs Henin, Safin earn entry into Hall of Fame

Justine Henin, 2006 US Open (Getty Images)
Photo by:  (Getty Images)

The US Open annually crowns the finest players in the world as its champions. In 2016, two of those illustrious winners will be joining the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

The Hall of Fame has announced that two-time women’s champion Justine Henin and 2000 men’s winner Marat Safin will be inducted into the Hall of Fame later this year. Joining them in the 2016 Hall of Fame class are Yvon Petra and Peggy Scriven, both of whom will be inducted posthumously in the Master Player Category.

“Justine and Marat committed themselves to the sport and worked relentlessly at being champions of the highest caliber,” said Stan Smith, the 1971 US Open champion and current Hall of Fame president and chairman of the Enshrinee Nominating Committee. “As a result, they achieved extraordinary careers. … We are looking forward to welcoming them.”

Henin, a former world No. 1, won a total of seven Grand Slam singles titles during her career, including US Open championships in 2003 and 2007. The Belgian, now 33, still recalls her 2003 victory, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6, over American Jennifer Capriati – a semifinal match general regarded as one of the best of the Open era – as one of the proudest moments of her career.

“I had 22,000 people against me, and after three hours of an amazing match, I started to feel more comfortable playing in that stadium,” Henin said in a conference call during the festivities surrounding World Tennis Day, celebrated on March 8. “I won [the US Open] twice, and that was probably one of the best matches in my career and something I won’t forget for sure.”

In addition to her two US Open championships, Henin reached the final in 2006, falling to Maria Sharapova, and she finished with a career US Open record of 35-7. Henin also won one Australian Open title, four French Open crowns and an Olympic gold medal, and she teamed with countrywoman Kim Clijsters to lead Belgium to the Fed Cup title in 2001.

Safin, 36, a two-time major singles champion and former men’s No. 1, scored his first Grand Slam singles title at the 2000 US Open, shocking five-time champion Pete Sampras in straight sets. It was a historic run for the 20-year-old; his victory marked the first and only time a Russian man has taken the US Open crown.

“To play against Pete in the final, no one expected me to beat him because he was playing on a different level,” Safin said, also during a conference call on World Tennis Day. “If he got to a final, he was unbeatable. I played incredible tennis and it made such a huge impact on my career.”

His title run secured Safin his first No. 1 ranking, which he retained for nine weeks. He would later add the 2005 Australian Open title to his resume, and he helped lead Russia to the Davis Cup championship in 2006.

Both Henin and Safin are the first players from their respective countries to be inducted into the International Hall of Fame.

The induction ceremony will be held July 16 during the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport, R.I., home to the International Tennis Hall of Fame.