Peter Bodo On Justine And Pierre Yves
The Third Wheel
Posted 01/05/2007 @ 4 :18 PM
In my recent post for ESPN, I wrote mostly about how Justine Henin-Hardenne's travails may impact the field at the Australian Open. I am assuming that the reports in Europe are accurate (I haven't heard back from any of my Belgian sources, whom I emailed earlier today), and that H-2's withdrawal from the AOfor "personal reasons" is because her marriage is on the rocks.
Let's assume this is the case. And, when H-2 told us at the French Open that Pierre Yves was on some sort of ski holiday and, thus, in absentia, I made a mental note to remember for future reference. What odd timing. It underscored one thing to me, even then: There's only one man in Justine's life, and that's Carlos Rodriguez - her coach since H-2 was 14, her friend, probably her father figure and certainly, with increasing vigor, her escutcheon - the man who defends and protects her from the world.
In a way, the thing I like most about H-2 other than her customary pugnaciousness (and it's not like the options menu overwhelming) is her relationship with Carlos. It so. . . Paper Moon. Or perhaps Rocky is the better analogy, because of the simultaneously depressing and inspiring nature of the Rocky/Paulie relationship. But in any event, it was clear from shortly after Pierre Yves hooked up with Justine that his role was destined to be that of a third wheel.
Disclaimer: I know enough about tennis players to say that we actually know very, very little about the off-court lives and relationships. But I do know that when tennis players marry, the established order is almost always shaken up. Oh, it's nothing so obvious and dramatic as firing one coach and hiring another (personally, I've always suspected that the increasing power of Steffi Graf in Andre Agassi's life had to work against Brad Gilbert), or bringing in a new management team. But there are almost always signals of change: just look at Lleyton Hewitt, who's not exactly the kind of guy in whom you would expect to see massive, focus-shifting tremors due to marriage.
Yet, from the day he wed, you could hear the tectonic plates grinding in his soul. All you had to do was stand close by and listen. Marriage, it seems to me, changed Hewitt, or at least accelerated the process of change he was undergoing. That the "mellow" stage may be over (the manner in which he fell out with his former coach, Roger Rasheed, certainly suggests that) only serves to reinforce the point. And, of course, Hewitt is a man. He endured the changes wrought by marriage and then he started to regain his focus and drive, much like any other driven professional in a conventional marriage might.
There was never any visible grinding and crunching in Justine. Pierre Yves smoothly became an addition to the team (the luggage tag said, "husband"), seemingly displacing no one, when the accumulated wisdom (or is it folly?) of a few thousand years of civilization (never mind ever major religious canon) suggests that he should have displaced everyone. For example, I'm a Christian. In my faith, your spouse is supposed to supersede everyone, including your children. That is, if your wife (or husband) and child fall out of a boat, and you can save only one, you save the spouse. Sounds strange, I know, but there are reasons and explanations for this, although this isn't the right forum for discussing them.
Maybe there was a fundamental shift in Justine's life, but you certainly tell by any outward signs. Pierre-Yves is going to get bashed, big-time, in this. A lot of you have already gone to town on him. Maybe it's my conservative nature, but I can't imagine any man accepting the kind of status Pierre-Yves appears to have been handed in the H-2 camp. Oh, I know, a tennis champion is a special creature, someone who, like the artist, operates with immunity (and impunity) from the conventions that rule life for the rest of us. But you mess with those conventions at your own peril, unless your main goal in life is winning Grand Slam titles - as appears to be the case for H-2.
What evidence we have suggests that Pierre-Yves was a starstruck tennis fan and club player - seemingly a nice-looking, regular guy - who hit the jackpot when Henin-Hardenne, tennis star and national heroine, took a shine to him. There was something very sweet, romantic, and down-to-earth about the whole thing. You could just visualize Pierre-Yves thinking: Holy cow! Am I like the luckiest, sleeveless-blouse wearing dude in Belgium, or what?
Now,imagine what any guy in love with Justine Henin-Hardenne would be thinking at the prospect of marrying her. She's as devoted to her career as a nun to God. She's extremely close with her coach, to the extent that they not only suffer but also promote an us vs. them mentality. There are enormous challenges here, starting with the fact that we have to put her and her career first, at least in the near term. But I can handle this! I'm going to be the giver, her rock, because. . . I love her.
Question: would he be more or less of a man if he had thought: Man, these self-and-tennis obsessed people are a rough bunch, they're going to chew me up into little pieces and spit me out!
I have to believe that Pierre-Yves must have understood what he was getting into and decided to suck it up, unaware or in defiance of all the red flags. The whole third wheel thing (although perhaps he hoped for a role reversal). The whole obsessive, familial focus on Ju-Ju and her precious career. The whole me-first ethic that drives so many tennis players. It's an understandable choice - who wants to walk away from the chance to marry a woman as attractive and accomplished as Justine Henin? The real issue is sustainability.
You can enter a relationship thinking you are an emotional Superman (love makes men and women both feel that way), but reality is going to be waiting the morning after, like a bad hangover. How can you sustain such a self-denying and subordinate posture? It's more likely that you start out a saint and somewhere down the road you find yourself in a motel room, confessing your discontents to an exotic dancer who's thinking: Poor sucker, but he seems like a helluva nice guy. How come I never met anyone this nice?
I had a close relationship with one couple in which the woman was a famous tennis player: Roger and Evonne (Goolagong) Cawley. They met while Goolagong's Svengali, Vic Edwards, still was her coach and mentor. Roger saw that he would have to give up what personal ambitions he had to be married to Evonne. He decided to do it, and fought to displace Edwards as the most important man in Evonne's life. It got a little ugly, but Evonne made her decision, choosing Roger - and Edwards was history.
Roger became Evonne's husband and "coach", although Evonne couldn't care less about the X's and O's, and just went out and played her game against all comers. They had a child, Kelly Inala, which made things easier, in terms of sustainability. She went on to become the only Open era woman to win Wimbledon while she was a mother. I'm not saying that this is a model for anyone; everyone is different. And I'm certainly not blaming Rodriguez, who seems to have served Justine as loyally as a rottweiller. This ball was in Justine and Pierre-Yves court, and that really means Justine's court. It's been her show, from Day One.
What I am saying, I guess, is that marriage is a transformational experience, and if it hasn't appreciably altered your life, you may be, but aren't necessarily, heading for trouble. It's been reported that Pierre Yves was increasingly discontented with H-2's focus on tennis, and the way her anxieties and relentlessness affected their relationship. Not only can I believe that, I can't imagine that it isn't true. Everything we know about Justine - the good, the bad, the ugly - argues for it.
I hope they can work things out.