Justine Henin-Hardenne uses skydiving during layoff to get adrenaline fix
Julie ScottCanadian Press
August 16, 2005
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Jelena Kostanic of Croatia reacts after losing a point during her match against Ai Sugiyama of Japan. (CP PHOTO/Aaron Harris)
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TORONTO (CP) - During a long layoff due to illness last season, Justine Henin-Hardenne needed another way to get the adrenaline fix she normally received from playing competitive tennis.
She found it 4,000 metres in the air. "I couldn't get excited on the court," said Henin-Hardenne. "When you love this so much, when you're on the court, when you have to save break point when you serve for the match, wow, you're just getting excited. I didn't have that last year when I was sick. I had to find something else."
So, Henin-Hardenne's husband introduced her to one of his favourite pastimes - skydiving. To date, she's jumped out of a plane 19 times.
The 23-year-old Belgian, who is the No. 4 seed this week at the $1.3-million US Rogers Cup, had always wanted to try it but was nervous about getting injured. As one of the top players on the WTA Tour, she didn't want to risk a long layoff recovering from something that could have been prevented.
But last year, that all changed when an energy-draining virus sidelined her for several months. Skydiving turned out to be the perfect medicine and while she says she doesn't need it as much as she used to because she's back playing competitive tennis, she still does a jump now and then. It was how she celebrated winning a gold medal at last summer's Olympics.
"You forget about everything else, who you are, the people who live with you. You just fly for a minute.
"It's amazing, everybody should do it."
It was a fairly light day on the courts at the Rexall Centre with just two seeded players in first-round action. Early in the day Ai Sugiyama of Japan, who became the 17th seed when top-seeded Maria Sharapova of Russia withdrew on Sunday, defeated Jelena Kostanic of Croatia 6-2, 3-6, 6-2.
In evening play Maria Vento-Kabchi of Venezuela defeated Marie-Eve Pelletier of Repentigny, Que, 6-0, 6-1, and No. 16 seed Tatiana Golovin of France defeated Karolina Sprem of Croatia 6-4, 6-4.
Aleksandra Wozniak of Blainville, Que., ranked 253rd in the world and playing in the main draw of a Tier 1 event for the second time in her career, lost 6-2, 6-2, to No. 29 Shinobu Asagoe of Japan, the same women who eliminated the Canadian from the Rogers Cup last year.
"During the match, I made a lot of errors," said Wozniak. "I didn't play a great game. She won the match because I made a lot of mistakes. I can't really say that she played good. I was pretty tight in the match."
In doubles qualifying Stephanie Foretzof France and Antonella Serra Zanetti of Italy defeated Sharon Fichman of Toronto and Valerie Tetreault of St. Jean Sur Richelieu, Que., 8-6.
On Tuesday, one marquee match has fifth-seeded American Serena Williams facing Stephanie Cohen-Aloro of France in the second round. A nagging ankle injury has kept Williams sidelined since Wimbledon.
"I'm feeling OK," Williams said of her injury. "I'm still not where I want to be at but I'm definitely feeling better than I was in the past. I've been working on some things in my game."
Defending champion Amelie Mauresmo of France also opens her tournament Tuesday against Dally Randriantefy of Madagascar.
Henin-Hardenne, a four-time Grand Slam champion, made her return to the tennis courts in March and capped a 24-match winning streak with a victory over Mary Pierce in the French Open final. But every time she feels a little bit tired, she gets worried it could be a recurrence of cytomegalovirus, the illness that threatened to prematurely end her career.
"It has been very difficult," she says of the illness. "One of the worst experiences of my life, I would say. It did affect me as a player but more as a person because when you're used to having a lot of energy and you cannot get up, you cannot drive because you're too tired, it's very hard."
Like Williams, she's been fighting an injury (hamstring) recently and hasn't played since Wimbledon. The Rogers Cup will be key in her preparation for the U.S. Open.
"I'm getting better," she said. "I'm not yet 100 per cent but my conditioning is getting better. I've worked pretty hard in the last few weeks but I miss matches for sure. The main goal remains the U.S. Open and I hope I can get a lot of matches this week."
The last time Henin-Hardenne played the Toronto tournament she defeated little-known Russian Lina Krasnoroutskaya in the final.
She's one of several high-profile players to suffer injuries this season and says shortening the WTA schedule could help prevent injuries that hit players as the gruelling season wears on.
"Three months for a break would be very good but it's going to be tough to find the solution because it's difficult to make tournaments happy, to make the tour happy, to keep the players healthy," she said. "It's going to be a big deal in the next few years. I hope we can find a solution."
© The Canadian Press 2005