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Tuesday, August 14

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

Toronto — It's hard to imagine a national heroine such as Justine Henin sitting in a restaurant in Belgium and enduring insult after insult from some ham-handed fellow, especially when it occurred shortly after she reached the final of Wimbledon last month.

Henin was with her coach Carlos Rodrigues and agent Vincent Stavaux. The loud-mouthed guy she was dining with was supposed to help her with her Web site.

During the meal, he was abrasive, had confrontations with the restaurant staff and unabashedly said to her, "You know people aren't interested in your backhand and your forehand, they're just interested in what kind of underwear you've got on."

The mild-mannered Henin, 19, was caught off-guard and tried to get up and leave a few times during the meal. Finally, the fellow went too far and, just as Henin was about to depart, Rodrigues informed her she had been the victim of a set-up on a Belgian candid-camera show.

"[Dirty trick]," she said Tuesday with a half-smile recalling the incident.

"It made me realize that people see me in a different way," she added, referring to her new-found celebrity.

Since the Wimbledon final, and her much-publicized French Open semi-final with fellow countrywoman Kim Clijsters, Henin has become a household name in Belgium. Even going out shopping has become a bit of a chore. "Lots of things in my life have changed since the two weeks of Wimbledon," she said. "You have to get used to that."

She took more than a week off after returning home. One benefit was it allowed a large, ugly blister on her foot to heal. It was a result of playing so many matches in a short period of time as well as having a high arch and slightly turned-up toes that put extra pressure on the ball of her foot.

For the past three weeks she has worked hard to get ready for the Rogers AT&T Cup, the U.S. Open and the rest of 2001. "I had to get back to fundamentals," she said of her training. "I did some weightlifting, but nothing too heavy — just enough to stay in shape."

Henin played 50 matches from the beginning of January, when she won two small tournaments in Australia, through the Wimbledon final. "My break was important because I didn't expect to have the results I did and play so many matches," she said referring to a period when her ranking rose from No. 48 to No. 6.

Mature and level-headed, possibly because she had to learn to deal with the death of her mother when she was 12, she is very forthright in discussing her tennis. Asked Tuesday about her revitalized mental approach to the game, she was tightlipped. "It's very personal," she said. "I think I can tell you about my forehand or about my serve. But the mental part, that's personal."

She was more comfortable discussing her one-handed backhand, a shot that has received rave reviews in the tennis world. "I always had a one-handed backhand," she said after beating Japan's Ai Sugiyama 6-4, 7-6 (7-5) in Toronto. "I never worked very hard on it because it's natural. I worked very hard on my serve and my forehand, but not my backhand. I think it was in me."

With wins over Venus Williams (in Berlin on clay) and Jennifer Capriati (at Wimbledon) this year, Henin has proved she can compete with the big hitters. But at less than 5 foot 6 and weighing only 126 pounds, she often has to answer questions about her ability to compete with heavyweights such as Venus and Serena Williams, Lindsay Davenport and Capriati.

"They're strong and hit hard but I think I have other things to use against them," Henin said. "I'm very fast on the court, I move well and I can have power when I need it.

"That's my game and I'm No. 6 with it. So I don't want to change, just go forward playing like this. I think everybody has her place on the tour."

As she discovers her own, fans are increasingly learning what a treat it is to watch her sparkling game style on court. Off it, she's candid and accommodating and just a tiny bit more skeptical after being surprised by that television crew last month.

Mean Admin Machine, Admeanistrator
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i've never like candid camera anyway - childish
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