LIMELETTE, Belgium (AP) The determination that helped Justine Henin beat bigger, stronger opponents time and again was fading.
"I decided," the 25-year-old Belgian said, "to stop fooling myself and accept it."
Henin retired from tennis Wednesday, an abrupt ending to a career in which she won seven Grand Slam singles titles and spent more than 100 weeks ranked No. 1.
She announced her decision at a news conference 1 1/2 weeks before the start of the French Open, where she has won the past three titles and four overall.
Put simply, she realized she was burned out, and became the first woman to quit the sport while atop the WTA rankings.
"I always based everything on this motivation this flame that was in me. And once I lost that, I lost many, many things," Henin said.
Surprising as her departure was to the rest of the world, it seemed somehow inevitable to her.
After reaching the final at each Grand Slam tournament in 2006, she won 10 tournaments in 2007, including two majors. But this season, she started to find it an ever bigger chore to pack her luggage to travel to tournaments. Her legs felt heavy when she should have been dancing in the backcourt, ready to turn another one of those sparkling backhands into a winner.
When she was hurt, she no longer minded if an injury lingered. Ever since being discovered as a child prodigy, tennis was everything to Henin. Now, though, tennis was making it clear that her time was up.
"Everything became harder," Henin said. "I felt, deep inside, something was getting out of my grasp."
Meanwhile, Maria Sharapova moved a step closer to the No. 1 ranking, overcoming some erratic moments before beating Dominika Cibulkova 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 in the second round of the Italian Open on Wednesday in Rome.
Sharapova is poised to move to No. 1 next week depending on if and when Henin asks the WTA Tour to remove her from the rankings.
Sharapova is No. 2 and third-ranked Ana Ivanovic the tournament's top seed was upset by Bulgarian qualifier Tsvetana Pironkova 6-4, 5-7, 6-2.