From today's NYTimes. Harvey Araton wrote and article on the BOSS in today's NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/03/sp.../03araton.html
By HARVEY ARATON
Published: September 3, 2004
AS if the lingering effects of a viral infection and a more recent cold weren't bad enough, Justine Henin-Hardenne couldn't quite shake her Olympic hangover, a 31-year-old Israeli journeywoman and a sudden bout of shaky self-esteem yesterday.
In the second round of a United States Open in which she is the defending women's champion, Henin-Hardenne found herself in a third set against a player, Tzipora Obziler, who had lost more matches this year (five) than she had won (three). Henin-Hardenne was losing her serve with alarming regularity and was drawn into long, draining points that left her nerves frayed, her shoulders stooped and her support group stumped.
Her husband of two years, Pierre-Yves Hardenne, and her longtime coach, Carlos Rodriguez, watched from the friends and family box. Hubby chewed his nails. Coach shifted uncomfortably. Both occasionally met the exasperated gaze of Henin-Hardenne by raising a firm index finger.
"You can't show the player in front of you that you're frustrated, and everybody can see that today she is," Rodriguez said after Henin-Hardenne gathered herself for a 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 victory that lasted 2 hours 14 minutes, or about 74 minutes more than she had planned. "You see today a lot of stress. We try to remind her that she is No. 1 because she forgets who she is."
Is it possible that identity loss is what occurs when your primary rival renders you nearly invisible by merely stepping on the court?
It has to be difficult - no, make that impossible - for Henin-Hardenne to turn any heads from the Hamptons when all Serena Williams has to do to become queen of the Open is undo her faux boots. In the fashion draw, Henin-Hardenne - as always, conservatively clothed in her white cap with ponytail extension, white shirt with blue bars and blue skirt with white stripes - is decidedly unseeded.
"I'm not really interested by all these things," she said when asked about Serena's expanding wardrobe. "I don't know exactly what she's wearing. That's my last problem right now."
While everyone ogles Maria Sharapova and the third-seeded Serena commands the attention of the cameras with her inventive and funky assortment of outfits, here are actual questions from interviews conducted with the top-seeded Henin-Hardenne over the first two rounds.
"For a person who is out in the sun all the time, you appear very pale. Are you feeling all right?"
"Your nose looked a little red today. Are you still having a problem with that cold?"
Don't worry. Henin-Hardenne isn't sniffling over being cast as the wallflower of the Open. The truth of the matter is that she is still in the regeneration stage after winning the gold medal in Athens in her first competition following a viral infection that cost her two and a half months of a year she began as the Tour's hottest player.
With Serena sidelined, slumping or otherwise occupied trying to be a movie star, Henin-Hardenne had won three of four Grand Slams through the 2004 Australian Open, clearly emerging as the female Roger Federer.
Williams is power. Henin-Hardenne is precision. Williams is about attitude. Henin-Hardenne is about angles. Williams, to play on the theme of another much-discussed subject from the recently concluded Olympics, is U.S.A. Basketball. Henin-Hardenne is Lithuania.
Well, of course we know Henin-Hardenne is actually from Belgium, but there are undeniable basketball parallels, beginning with the commonly held position that Williams is the superior athlete while the 5-foot-5-inch Henin-Hardenne, best known for her variety of shots and swashbuckling backhand, is stronger in the so-called fundamentals.
Right through Wimbledon 2003, even after Henin-Hardenne ignited a rivalry by defeating her at the French Open weeks before in a contentious match, Williams ruled the Tour. Even as the Williams Dream Team frayed with the rapid descent of big sister Venus, Serena seemed likely to continue winning Grand Slam events for as long as she cared to. But there is this matter of her priorities, her preoccupation with celebrity, which Henin-Hardenne apparently has little interest in.
"For me, I plan for a long career," she said. "I'm not planning to stop tennis in the next two or three years, or in the next five years. It's what I love the most."
As evidenced by reactions to the Americans' basketball misadventure in Greece, people here continue to underestimate and mischaracterize many foreign athletes. Americans from the inner city do not have a patent on poverty and the hunger to escape it. Basketball players with crew cuts from the slums of Serbia and Montenegro or ponytails from dirt-poor parts of Argentina may not look the part to us, but they often have the same story to tell as LeBron James.
Sharapova and the others from the Russian women's brigade are widely known not to be of country-club ilk. Henin-Hardenne has her own hardship tale, a troubled adolescence after losing her mother to intestinal cancer at age 13. She fought through terrible cramps to beat Jennifer Capriati in a classic semifinal here last year, and she made it through yesterday, when her body language matched her subdued dress code, and she had to be reminded of what is easy to forget around here, that she's No. 1.