Posted: Monday July 3, 2006 10:05PM; Updated: Tuesday July 4, 2006 10:33AM
There was that infamous phantom hand she held up -- and, on court, didn't own up to -- during the 2003 French Open semifinal against Serena Williams. There was a disputed break point against Kim Clijsters in the 2004 Australian Open final, Henin-Hardenne signaling a ball out -- and getting the overrule -- that was actually in. And most controversially of all, there was the moment in this year's Australian Open final against Amelie Mauresmo when Henin-Hardenne, down 6-1, 2-0, retired from the match with stomach cramps -- a moment, for her critics, of surpassing smallness: Either Henin-Hardenne couldn't take the loss, or wanted to deprive Mauresmo of the full impact of her breakthrough achievement, or both.
"I knew she got some criticism," Mauresmo, the world No. 1, said after her 6-3, 6-4 win over Ana Ivanovic on Monday. "As a journalist I probably would have done the same."
Once, Mauresmo and Henin-Hardenne were good friends. Asked if they were still friends now, Mauresmo said, "No, I cannot." Asked if Henin-Hardenne's withdrawal had affected their relationship, Mauresmo said, "It did. It did. I had a lot of respect for the champion she is and all that's she's achieved. But I don't feel this behavior is a champion's behavior. Unless you injure yourself and you cannot, like Kim [who retired with an injury from their Australian semifinal] a couple days before, I don't think it's the way to behave on the court. Especially since, I think the first thing she said in the press conference was, 'Well, I couldn't win the match anyway.' So you have to think: Did you pull out because you felt you could not win because of the way you were feeling? Or was it because ... you know. There's still that question."
Henin-Hardenne said Monday that the anti-inflammatories she'd been taking for an injured shoulder left her gasping on the floor of her Melbourne hotel room the night before the Australian final. "My regret right now is that I should've gone to the hospital, call a doctor, do something," Henin-Hardenne said. "I can tell you -- and I have proved it many times I could fight on the tennis court -- that's the worst pain I ever had. The only regret I have maybe right now is that I walked on the court. But at least I tried." She paused a beat, and added, "It's far away from me now."
That is not an unusual stance for Henin-Hardenne, who long ago broke with her father, Jose, and her three siblings and has barely spoken to her family in years. With husband Pierre-Yves Hardenne and longtime coach Carlos Rodriguez and his two children, she has all but built a new family to support her; inside their embrace she stands, steeled against all criticism. "People will find something to say," she says. "I'm fine with that, but that's it; I don't live with this. There was a time in my career where it was very important, what people were thinking about me. But not anymore. Because I'm not doing my life with these people."
As for her father, whom she disagreed with most publicly over the direction of her tennis career, five years ago Henin-Hardenne doubted they'd ever be close again. "In the future," she said while on that stretch of grass at Wimbledon in 2001, "maybe he will understand that I am more than a tennis player." Asked Monday if anything had changed since, Henin-Hardenne shook her head.
"No, it didn't improve. Maybe it will change one day, but not now and probably not during my career," she said. "It's life. Me, a lot of people are talking about that because I'm famous. But it's the same in lots of families. It's very sad. I need to keep going, I need to keep growing, and I need to have good people around me. If it's not working with them? It's OK. I have to keep going."
Moving on here means a Tuesday quarterfinal against qualifier Severine Bremond, and if all goes according to form, a semifinal showdown after that with her longtime rival Clijsters. A win there, and once again the tennis world is going to have to sort through the complexities of its Justine Problem: how to root against a champion who has prevailed over the worst life can dish out? How to cheer a competitor so calculating and cool? How to do both at the same time?
Mauresmo, though, has an easier task: win two more matches on the other side of the draw and set up the year's most intriguing rematch. Friends once, and now something else entirely. "I would take anybody" in the Wimbledon final, Mauresmo said of the possibility of facing Henin-Hardenne on Saturday. "But I think if it comes -- and it may come here, it may come later -- all this has to be behind." She made a gesture then, her right arm shoving what happened in Melbourne somewhere behind her back. "Just focus on the game."
Asked if she thought she could truly do that, Mauresmo tried to sound convincing. "I think so, yes, yes," she said. "I think so."