"Frozen Heart": (Long feature portrait of Patty))
feature article from the Swiss news magazine Weltwoche (“World Week”) 17 July 2003, translated by Babelfish
Patty Schnyder’s fiance has been convicted on charges of fraud and document falsification; she deals with her parents only through lawyers; with the media she stands on a war footing. A closer look at this loneliest of all tennis players.
by Franziska K. Mueller
The window frames are decorated with house plants and rolled-together blankets. Photographs from Tessin province hang on the walls. "The masters are eating", says the serving girl, and she points to the rear. In the dining room three people sit wordless over their plates. Flaedli-Soup. Rabbit filet. Strawberries. In front of the windows bloom-white curtains billow. The view goes into the garden. It is pouring rain.
"Patty, it’s going uphill again,” calls the boulevard press to the 24-year-old Tennis player these days. This means nothing to Patty, because she has not read the newspapers since the first scandal four years ago. With two badly viewed love affairs and the separation from the usual community of coach, family, and federation, her fall from grace seemed at that time sealed. That which few thought her capable of took place last October. Patty defeated Lindsay Davenport to win the Swisscom Challenge in Zurich and surprisingly win her first large professional tournament. One spoke of the biggest success of her career. Since that time the Basel native has played – with the usual highs and lows - for the most part successfully. She returned in the meantime on the world rank list place nineteen and is since the retirement of Martina Hingis the number 1 in Swiss women’s tennis. On 19 and 20 July she plays for the Fed Cup team for the ascent into the World Group against Israel.
The meal is finished and Patty Schnyder is ready for a discussion. She almost never speaks a word to the media any more. Also this current meeting will turn out to be fraught with consequences. The texts are afterwards in every detail examined, with efforts to sanction them. Each word is put on the scale. Legal action is threatened. The Tennis Player sees herself once again as the victim of a conspiracy, in which her parents – as well as the rest of the world - are complicit. Willy and Iris Schnyder have for their part given information concerning their renegade daughter. Afterwards the texts are, however, likewise tightly examined, with efforts to sanction them. Also legal steps are threatened.
Patty sits hidden behind the wine rack. Her media speaker and an imposing man with blond-dyed, streaked hair rise discreetly. They re-seat themselves – still however within earshot - at a neighboring table. The Tennis Player looks younger than she actually is. Almost like a girl. She is wearing Patchwork jeans, a batik blouse, shoes with small heels and offers a tender handshake. Her face is narrow and almost burned brown with summer rungs on the nose. Tournaments in Australia, the USA and Dubai have left their mark. Her hair falls in combed curls like sheep’s wool over her shoulders. Her eyes are ball-round and framed with long baby lashes. Her facial expression is motionless, her body posture stoic. An almost Lolita-like indifference surrounds the girl. Some recognize in this indifference coldness of feeling and defiance. Others assume that neediness of protection and erotic potential lie under the frosty surface. Both are wrong.
Schnyder’s hard-to-recognize nature has been much puzzled over. Of her parents she wants to know nothing more. From various coaches and trainers she has separated. Friends and acquaintances were lost on the way to “liberty.” "Isolation is my theme,” says the girl later about this so much intended new life, and a hundred ice-flowers seem to bloom suddenly around her. Does “liberty” have a price? “None, which would bother me in any way,” she answers.
"It is as though she has a wall around her soul,” said Patty’s mother four years ago, in the middle of the crisis from which the Schnyder family has never been able to emerge. As a child she was introverted. And today as well she does not have many emotions, says the mother. “She is not the cool, calm little Patty, which she pretends to be,” said her former coach Eric van Harpen after one annoying defeat. Later, after the Top Spielerin at the height of the scandal had freed itself from him, the Dutchman complained: "Nobody knows, what she really thinks and feels.” His former student, whom he with a strict hand and unite humiliating to the top of the world tennis had led, pulls on the table cloth and looks out the window. The sentences finally drip indignantly from her lips.
"Van Harpen is a Macho, but he has learned something in the passing time." What? “Now and again he keeps his flap shut,” says Patty, without lifting her voice. She could not put up with him any more, just as she keeps other people at a distance, who want to give her instructions. The suggestion that she place her personality into the service of her achievement, has taken on a new meaning. Patty at present has taken over her own tennis-technical and mental improvement efforts. From coach Hubert Choudury she separated only recently. The girl atrributes her athletic successes to mental strength and a disciplined life change, how the surrounding field always preached - to lead not as triumph into the field.
“From the Nutcase to the Criminal”
The person who knew the girl best, her father, comments only in writing on matters concerning his famous daughter. Willy Schnyder writes: "After the nutcase Rainer Harnecker, Patty passed smoothly into the hands of the criminal Rainer Hofmann, going thus from the frying pan into the fire.” He suggests a professional “deprogramming,” so that Patty can find her way back to the moral and ethical values held by her family, and can finally escape from boyfriend Hofmann, who he says belongs urgently in prison and requires intensive psychiatric treatment. "Patty is a poor human being, who can no longer think and act independently,” writes the father. He acknowledges that “the mental blockade within her psyche interestingly enough has only a minor influence on the level of her tennis playing.” Regarding her parents, Patty does not want to speak and to the suggestion of many topics and says only: “that is difficult,” or “I do not wish to analyze that more closely.”
Several months ago Patty Schnyder moved to the canton Schwyz, in Baech in the last village on the Zurich lake. In Switzerland she likes the food, she says. And the peace. But later she wishes to go completely away, to Australia. Because she says life is uncomplicated there, the people will leave her more in peace, and because Rainer likes the surfing. Also in Baech she can go shopping undisturbed, and there is an airport nearby, in order to fly away again.
Away from the past. Where people had once said she had a Bambi-gaze. Where everyone doted on the girl and called her a darling. Patty was nicer than Martina. More modest and calm than Martina. And with nearly the same talent as well! The girl from let the Tennisleibchen Basel-offered fall always loosely over the body. If she grumbled now and then, it was only with herself. If she read a critical newspaper article, she became sad. The father – the financial director of an international trading enterprise - financed for many years the tennis love of his daughter. The mother took care of the two children. The girl was an extremely dear child. Once she wanted to deseam the bathroom with toothpaste. That is the only negative thing that the parents were ever known to report. Patty played tennis and the piano, she read books and was a good pupil. She loved her small brother very much and was late patin of a Kaengurus in the Basler zoo talked her already at that time not much.
Stability and a certain easiness, for which the girl was praised former times, was credited to the parents. But Patty later deplored the authoritarian education style, which supposedly provoked her radical liberty efforts. She found herself suddenly living in another world, in which more enemies than friends were to be found. The father writes: "you can investigate around Switzerland in the tennis scene and in the international surrounding field of the WTA, inquire with coaches and managers. Everyone who knows our family will testify that there was no such authoritarian education .” The fronts were not always so polarized: 1993 Patty Schnyder was the Swiss Junior Champion, at the end of of 1994 she emerged at #786 for the first time on the world rank list. In 1998 she won five WTA tournaments, which brought her the honor of being named the most improved player in women’s tennis. She reached number 8 in the world and became not only the pride of the nation, but also the favourite of the functionaries.
The so-called crash came surprisingly suddenly and had little to do with athletic achievements little for the time being. "Is Patty nuts?” the boulevard press worried itself. She must urgently consult a psychologist, advised her father already at that time. She turns away from everything, which is good for her, complained her coach. Patty answered, “Why the theatre? I want to live now finally in such a way, as it fits me.” A man, the German alternative practitioner Rainer Harnecker, was declared guilty in the press of causing the strange change in Patty by “brainwashing” her. There seemed no other way to explain the changed behavior of the girl at all. Suddenly she grumbled at her coach, disobeyed her parents and found journalists annoying.
Patty’s entourage, parents, and coach were displeased by this development. Eric van Harpen, also the coach at different times of Conchita Martinez, Arantxa Sanchez and Anna Kournikova, saw his influence endangered with the emergence of Rainer Harnecker. Sudden interest in the mental well-being his Swiss favorite was the result. He expressed his interest in his own way by alarming parents and making negative statements about the daughter. He publicly deplored her laziness and lack of motivation. One statement, that accurately fit into the conception of the world of the Dutch patriarch: "Men go to onto the court in order to win, women go not to lose.” And: “For this reason female players must be manipulated from the inside.”
The girl, who has settled into a lizard-like peacefulness, says, without raising her voice: “These are statements of a man, who believes he he has a knowledge of the female nature." Are the statements correct? “And what if they are?” Patty asks. She considers that she is conscious of her sex-specific traits, but would prefer not to analyze the problem more closely. She had to go to the fronts of the life alone, in order to attain self-sufficiency, she says. Now she has freed herself from the obligations, which made her a flexible personality, whose every behavior change is doubly scrutinized. That has cost her energy - and at least temporarily – a certain amount of sympathy. In the process of this renewal she came to the conclusion that Switzerland is not by any means an emancipated country. Why not? “It just is like that,” hums the girl, and after a long break she says: "In former times I let everything be issued over me. Then I began to resist with my hands and feet a few men from my surrounding field.” One knows the remainder of the sad history.
As Patty was earning millions at an age when most of her 21-year-old peers were content with pocket money, Rainer Hofmann was able to push his way to the side of the father, who up to that time had managed the fortunes of his daughter. Hofmann, who called himself a “business detective,” did some research on the man whom the girl was getting close to. Soon it turned out that Harnecker stood in conflict with the law. For several weeks the unusual pair dominated the headlines. In the meantime Patty played erratically, cancelled her participation in the Fed Cup, was soon not allowed to make any more Yogurt advertisements, and lost also her remaining sponsors. Then, to everyone’s surprise, she simply said “bye-bye” to the miracle-worker on the telephone.
But the family was still not pleased, because in the meantime Patty had fallen in love with the detective. No comfort for the environment. Patty fell within a short time outside the Top 30. The second Rainer is likewise ten years older than Patty. Hofmann fits with Patty visually about as well as Marilyn Manson fits Francine Jordi. Hofmann’s first acknowledgement of his small daughter by his earlier marriage came at a court ruling when the child was nearly two years old. Because of fraud and falsification of documents in several cases he was condemned to a 18-month term of imprisonment. The enforcement of the punishment was suspended, and substituted with a probation of three years. "In every life there are dark marks,” answers Schnyder with a shrug. If one knows exact circumstances, it becomes somewhat relative, she says. Also the second Rainer is a “difficult topic.” But obviously he has a few nice sides. "Otherwise why would I be together with him 364 days a year?” Patty asks.
"Artificial Life Islands"
Rainer Hofmann books the hotels, answers all of Patty’s telephone calls, organizes the trips and saves the Tennis player many pains the neck, as she says. She says she administers her finances herself, or at least knows where her money is and what it is being done with it. How much she has earned in her career, is not known precisely, but it safely includes more than two million dollars in prize money, before the income from sponsor contracts is counted. Rainer wants to fly to the moon and later to emigrate. He likes pizza and sofa evenings in Baech. Exactly like Patty. “Enslavement?” Dependency? This is foolishness. I will be further portayed as a person who lacks her own will,” says the girl. It quite often occurs, she says, that her fiance stays in the hotel bar after she herself has already gone to bed. She can also go out on her own, if she wants. With friends? “Not much,” answers Patty. She is a loner.
Stubborn and somewhat unpredictable in her moods, is how she characterizes itself. The best Swiss Tennis Player goes alone to the beach. She reads a book or something like that. What others think about her romance or her life is “unimportant.” Indifferent, unimportant, all the same. These are expressions, which the girl uses frequently. The opinions of others mean nothing. She looks out the window and corrects herself. "Actually less than nothing. Otherwise one has this constant internal unrest and never knows, where one belongs."
The parents have tried everything, in order to remove the girl from this new man. Patty must have understood it as an ultimatum, which the remaining world had followed: him or us. Now the Tennisspielerin is ten months per year with Rainer traveling, and during the remaining time they make their common vacation in Baech. Otherwise the pair travels around the globe. They are rarely longer than one week in the same place and live out of the suitcase. “We usually stay in holiday resorts,” says Patty. At such places there is always a hair salon and a swimming pool, a souvenir shop and a restaurant. The only things missing from these “artificial life islands” are new experiences and friends. “In case the hotel is in the city center, one can go by foot in the evening to drink something. Otherwise we remain usually in the hotel,” she described the the more exciting part of such days, weeks, and months. This life is more monotonous, than one could imagine.
“The outsiders probably have completely incorrect conceptions,” says the Tennisspielerin seriously. Perhaps therefore many people are envious? Perhaps she simply isn’t so well-liked in Switzerland? In any case one concentrates under such circumstances inevitably on those persons, who surround one and who think similarly to one. Her fiance is the person who she trusts the most. He is in fact the only person who Patty trusts at all. Lonely? In former times the girl said: “No, surely not. I always have nice people taking care of me.” Today Patty Schnyder answers: “Isolation is my theme. I am continuously together with the same person.”
“All discussion of the education, the coach and van Harpen,” writes the father, “is pointless. The only relevant point is the elimination of the influence of Rainer Hofmann on the psyche of our daughter. In other respects it is to be noted that our family is potrayed as evil, since we try to pursue Mr. Hofmann judicially. On Patty’s homepage we were was called clowns and reviled in other ways.” Later there was a lawsuit, in which Patty demanded the disclosure of her father’s bookkeeping and which accused the father of criminal machinations. The procedure is pending. When it will be resolved, is not certain. Willy Schnyder reacted to the accusations with an unspecified complaint, and since that time there have been no more developments. Attempts to renew contact with Patty failed. Regarding the parental efforts toward a reconciliation the daughter claims no understanding. “They want to fetch me back into the old world, but there I want never more back," she says. But what was really so different in that universe? “All and nothing,” answers Patty and suddenly wants to go. She rises, sits down next to Rainer at his table, and for the first time smiles pleasantly...
World Week, 17 July 2003
World Week editor’s note:
Written letters and faxes arriving at the editorship, telephone calls, threats of legal action. What was going on? Was our paper in the middle of an epochal scandal? Had someone passed us explosive documents from the Parliament House? No such thing. The journalist Franziska K. Mueller had been doing research for a portait of Patty Schnyder, the best Tennis Player of the country, in advance of the Swiss Fed Cup team’s match against Israel. The 24-year-old Basel native and her sometimes obstinate entourage has a clouded relationship to the press. Their meeting with the Worldweek author apparently did not improve the situation. Schnyder’s media representative attempted to block the article’s publication with a “precautionary prohibition.”