PDA

View Full Version : Playing across the Belgian divide


News Rover
Nov 4th, 2003, 03:08 AM
Henin meets Clijsters and the winner will be world No1

Stephen Bierley
Tuesday November 4, 2003
The Guardian

The nets had been taken down on the outside courts, and the leaves of silver birch and poplar drifted over the red clay. Inside the VTV training centre, an unprepossessing building in the Antwerp suburb of Wilrijk, the best under-14 players from the Dutch and the French-speaking areas of Belgium were about to do battle.

A decade ago, on such a grey autumnal day as last Wednesday, Kim Clijsters and Justin Henin would have been found here, dreaming their dreams of an international tennis career. Yet it would have stretched everybody's imagination to the absolute limits to suppose that 10 or so years later they would be challenging each other this week for the top position in women's tennis.

With the Williams sisters absent through injury from the end-of-season Bank of America Tour championship in Los Angeles, beginning tomorrow, Clijsters and Henin-Hardenne are certain to finish the season No1 and No2, but as with most things Belgian, this startling achievement may end up dividing rather than binding the nation.

The rise of two African-American siblings, Venus and Serena Williams, to No1 and No2 in the world was improbable enough, but for a country of just 10 million people with no history of producing grand slam singles champions, their joint ascent to the pinnacle of their sport has defied belief - the more so given that they developed on the opposite sides of a linguistic, cultural and sporting boundary .

Belgium may be deemed the art of the compromise, divided as it is, roughly speaking, between the Flemish speaking North, now the economic hub of the country, and the French-speaking South -Flanders and Wallonia. The divisions are inherent, and from this schism emerged Henin-Hardenne, 22, and Clijsters, 21, separated by 53 weeks and 173 years of history.

The Dutch-speaking Clijsters was a product of the Antwerp academy; the French-speaking Henin learned her tennis at Mons. "In the 70s Belgium had no tennis tradition at all and was very country-club oriented," said Steven Martens, the technical co-ordinator in Antwerp and the Davis Cup captain.

"In 1979 the ministry of sport was split for political reasons. So were the tennis federations. We formed our academy in Antwerp and the French speakers then copied us - it was a positive, not negative move, and the national team remains combined. We are not two countries. We have a relationship but we are also working separately. We influence each other."

Which is pretty much how the tennis world perceived Henin-Hardenne and Clijsters until this summer when, seemingly, the strain of competition at the highest level suddenly and wholly uncharacteristically saw Clijsters launch a personal attack on her compatriot.

When the two had met in this year's French Open final, the King of Belgium praised them both wholeheartedly for helping to unite his country in the name of sport. However, by the time they had played again on the international centre stage in the US Open final, with Henin gaining her second grand slam title at the expense of Clijsters, any such unity become all but lost in a verbal war of charge and counter-charge.

Clijsters, after winning the first set in the San Diego final, but then losing the match, claimed that a five-minute injury break by Henin after the opening set had been gamesmanship. "It's not the first time she has done this," said the normally amiable Clijsters. "It's a sign that she is not at her best and so she has to resort to other means to get out of scrapes."

Henin reacted angrily and suddenly the words of Dirk Deldaele,an administrator with the Flemish Federation, that: "What is really good for this country is that Kim is from the northern part and Justine from the southern part. With both playing well, it's good for the unity of the country", had a decidedly hollow ring.

The US Open was a breeding ground for further speculation and rumour, which was hugely exacerbated after the all-Belgian final when Lei Clijsters, Kim's father and manager, suggested that Henin's muscular development was "unusual". The powder keg went up.

Everything in Belgium, as only a brief visit illustrates all too obviously, has a linguistic agenda and, if there is not one, it will be found or manufactured. Not surprisingly, various sections of both the Dutch and French press seized on the row between the Clijsters and Henin camps with an alacrity that went far beyond mere sporting antagonsim.

Martens, who in his home country has generally distanced himself from the row boiling in the media, attempted an explanation as he sat in his small, sparsely furnished office, personalised by a single Auguste Rodin print. Had the row been blown out of all proportion? "In a sense yes, for sure. It's a luxury for our press to have the No1 and No2 in the world, so some of them have the need to find other elements to write about. But on the other hand what has happened between Kim and Justine is pretty human."

Personal antipathy

"They can have a formally correct relationship and get along with each other, but they are, after all, rivals. I can see this here every day with the youngsters here. We prepare them with intensity, and if they get to a final we congratulate ourselves at having done a good job. But once in that final, it's all about who is going to be the better of the two. And it's the same with Justine and Kim."

Since the US Open final and its verbal aftermath, both Belgians have attempted to dampen down all talk of personal antipathy. The WTA, the professional women's ruling body, has frequently fought shy of such controversies, which on this occasion has spurred the non-Belgian media, bored by the non-rivalry between the Williams sisters, to pay even greater attention to this particular local difficulty.

"In Belgium when Kim and Justine play each other it is a bit like Manchester United playing Manchester City for their fans," said Martens. "But if only one of them is in a final then all but the die-hard supporter is happy. We can have confrontation from each part of Belgium for sure, but if the national team is doing well, or a specific athlete, then it's all Belgium."

In a country less than 200 years old, and riven with linguistic jealousies and enmity, the rivalry between Clijsters and Henin-Hardenne was, sooner or later, bound to get entangled with history. But as America's Pam Shriver pointed out in a purely sporting context: "People need to stop saying they are friends." Martens agrees. "They have different personalities and above all they both want to be the best.

In her teens Henin, the daughter of a postman, was frequently described as serious, articulate and fragile. Extroverted and care-free summed up Clijsters, whose father played football for Belgium. Today such pocket profiles have become blurred at the edges. Unfortunately the lines dividing north and south Belgium appear as painfully sharp as ever.

Lady
Nov 4th, 2003, 09:25 AM
Aren't they tired to write the same stuff over & over again :rolleyes:
And I yet wait to see anyone mantioning that Kim lied about Justine doing it all the time

pigam
Nov 4th, 2003, 11:43 AM
Mmmm :rolleyes: I don't know about the other Belgians but my opinion is: :rolleyes: (if that's an opinion of course). It is absolutely bullshit that the whole of flanders is behind Kim and whole Walloonia is behind Justine. Cuz that what they make it seem like in the article. I study in Walloonia, but I'm from Flanders. I can (really) tell. Some people here (Wal) like Kim, others Justine and in Falders vice versa.

And idd, Lady. Not ONCE has Justine ever said anything unclassy about Kim when she was loosing against her all the time. She even admitted (which I think is the great thing about Ju) that she had mental probs with Kim. Now Clijsters looses a few times against Justine and she starts lying! That has absolutely nothing to do with Belgium being devided in 2 (actually 3) different regions, nor with a difference in caracter! That's just childish bullshit, which was aggravated by SOME (there was somethig ) insinuation L Clijsters made.

The press can write what they want, but it shows you: never just believe anything that appears in a newspaper, cuz it might as well be crap (even if that newspaper is called The Guardian ... )

Juju_fan
Nov 4th, 2003, 12:43 PM
I agree with pigam: I'm from Wallonie but my mother is a Kim fan, and everyone in my kot is a Kim fan ( :sad: ;) ) although we are all Walloons...

Greenout
Nov 4th, 2003, 12:53 PM
Are the British media more for Kim? Alot of the
articles are softer on Kim than Justine.

fleemke³
Nov 4th, 2003, 02:57 PM
Kim had just the abillity to talk to the press! She answers, imo, almost always exactly the journalists want her to do. Justine is more introvert (is this a word in English?). It's just a gift that Kim has.

I live in the dutch speaking part of Belgium (about 30km from Kim) and I'm a fan of Justine. If Justine was Spanish, Greek, American, German ... well I still would be a fan of her because I like her game and like her devotion to her sport.

voila :p

minboy
Nov 4th, 2003, 03:06 PM
Are the British media more for Kim? Alot of the
articles are softer on Kim than Justine.


well, about all foreign journalist are pro-kim, just because she's "the nicest girl out there", so when she says something ( justine taking injury break when she's down all the time ) , it MUST be true.... :rolleyes:

This article is bullshit, just like every article about kim-the-flemish against justine-the-walloon. Those guys ( journalists ) don't understand that tennis, as any sport, is language-free.

btw pigam, where do u study exactly?

cynicole
Nov 4th, 2003, 08:22 PM
Are the British media more for Kim? Alot of the
articles are softer on Kim than Justine.

This article actually struck me more as anti-Kim than anti-Justine.

Actually, when it concerns Kim and Justine, the Guardian is usually more pro-Justine. There were only two articles in The Guardian this year that I could classify as anti-J and neither were written by regular Guardian writers and both around the time of Wimbledon.

I've been reading a lot of English-language articles this past year from around the world. In general, *everyone* loves Kim. The place that's most pro-Kim/anti-Justine is Australia (I'm not saying they "hate" her, just that their love of Kim is overwhelmingly greater than any feeling they have for Justine...or practically anyone else for that matter). In the US, the writers either seem to love or hate Justine and either love or be completely indifferent to Kim.

cynicole
Nov 4th, 2003, 08:24 PM
well, about all foreign journalist are pro-kim, just because she's "the nicest girl out there", so when she says something ( justine taking injury break when she's down all the time ) , it MUST be true.... :rolleyes:


I just think the "journalists" are too lazy to do any real legwork.

Greenout
Nov 5th, 2003, 02:12 AM
It's interesting to note that here in SouthEast Asia
Justine seems to be the more popular one simply
because they relate more to her. Smaller frame,
introverted, not prone to loud statements, humble
and a workaholic. :) Everyone also loves the fact
that a non-American from a smaller country can
beat big American power players.

The Singapore newspapers have taken to Justine
The Kim is kind of "jealous" angle is the popular opinion
of sports writers here. lol.

cynicole
Nov 5th, 2003, 11:09 AM
It's interesting to note that here in SouthEast Asia
Justine seems to be the more popular one simply
because they relate more to her. Smaller frame,
introverted, not prone to loud statements, humble
and a workaholic. :) Everyone also loves the fact
that a non-American from a smaller country can
beat big American power players.

The Singapore newspapers have taken to Justine
The Kim is kind of "jealous" angle is the popular opinion
of sports writers here. lol.

I also notice that she gets to go by first-name status in the headlines in Southeast Asia. Then again, I think most of the women do.

We're a bit too jingo-istic here in the US so I tend to read mostly the British stuff (and I'm rebrushing up my French and reading Le Soir now too). Except when it concerns Tim and Greg they're generally very fair. I get a sense the Brits like her because she also fits into the British underdog mold. You know, ye olde English navy full of small, speedy ships that beat that big old Spanish Armada, blah, blah, blah heritage.

In the US, Justine's coverage is like a muted Hingis. Love not so great, but neither is the hatred. The problem is that there's that bitch at the New York Times who is so pro-Wx2 and anti-J who sets the tone for most people.

If Justine was an American, a TV-movie about her would already be in the works. But given how lousy TV-movies have been lately, maybe it's good she isn't American. :)

Probably after this semester of school is done (mid- late- December) I'll post something somewhere about tennis writers around the world and summarize how they covered the sport.

pigam
Nov 5th, 2003, 11:27 AM
btw pigam, where do u study exactly?
FUNDP, à Namur. :bounce: :unsure: ;)
Et toi? Liège?

fleemke³
Nov 5th, 2003, 01:58 PM
Thx it's interesting to read who foreign newspaper write about Justine :)

cynicole
Feb 21st, 2004, 05:16 PM
*bump*

Given the current of feeling in the troll-started thread in GM (you know which one), the content of this thread seems rather relevent to the moment.

BTW, I think I was rather spot-on with the whole spiel I gave about Australia given how it all played out.