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A Collective Noun of Belgians

Posted by gauloises1 on March 30, 2010

Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters joined Yanina Wickmayer in the quarterfinals last night after solid wins over Vera Zvonareva and defending champion Victoria Azarenka respectively.

And speaking of Justine, Kim and Yanina (see how smoothly I did that?), I thought this was pretty interesting from The Times on the relationship between the three, Yanina and Fed Cup and Kim’s changing dynamic with the press:

There is plenty of news and conflict to occupy Belgian nibs. [...] But what is convulsing them more are the latest twists in the relationship between Justine Henin, Kim Clijsters and Yanina Wickmayer, the women ranked, respectively, No 33, No 16 and No 14 on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. There was a frisson when Henin and Clijsters crossed rackets and their contests were always vivid for more than simply to discover who would be the better player, for Henin is from the French-speaking quarter, while Clijsters is Flemish through and through. Having Wickmayer in the mix has added more than a dash of spice to the story.

The choice of Henin and Clijsters as the No 1 and No 2 picks for the Fed Cup team to play against Estonia in a month’s time has angered Yanina’s father Marc, who, with some justification, thinks his daughter deserves to be one of the two singles players. He has said he does not want Yanina to attend just to be the water carrier.

Further piquancy is provided in that, during Henin’s ‘retirement’ from the sport, M. Wickmayer attempted to persuade Carlos Rodriguez, her coach since childhood, to come and work with his daughter. Rodriguez spent some time with Wickmayer but decided not to work with her full time, much to the Wickmayers’ disgust. There are rumours of legal comebacks. But there was a sizeable get-out for Rodriguez the moment that Henin announced said she would return to the tour, as she did in January. Rodriguez was not going to work for anyone else.

All three girls have a remarkable story to relate. Henin’s travails against the backdrop of the premature death of her mother, family splits, recriminations and reconciliations, her marriage and divorce, are part of the sport’s folklore. Clijsters, so happy-go-lucky by comparison, was a committed competitor, before she decided to stop playing, had a daughter, lost her father and mentor, Leo, to cancer, returned to the tour and won the US Open in fairytale style.

Wickmayer is a no less driven character, having lost her mother at the age of nine after which her father uprooted from Belgium and landed in America, building a new life. Suddenly, late last year she discovered that her name was high among those who had missed targeted doping dates. She left for the Australia circuit in 2009 and was supposed to fill out her whereabouts forms for the Flemish anti-doping authorities but thought they were only for top 50 players, which she was not at the time. That was an initial violation. As she was away from home for a long period, letters sent to her reminding her of her liabilities under the anti-doping programme were returned to the sender. The same thing happened again later in the year – three strikes and she faced a year-long suspension.

She had never missed a doping control on site, had never tested positive and here she was – out of the game for a period that could have seriously damaged her career. “There was ten years of hard work to get me to No 16 in the world and it was all being taken from me,” she said. “I don’t know whether that was humane for them, but it wasn’t for me. I could only practise, but with no purpose. I was only 19, I didn’t know all the rules, and if I could not have played for a year, I didn’t know how I would react.”

Eventually, the court’s ruling was overturned and Wickmayer was allowed to continue, to where she has become the highest-ranked of the trio. Nonetheless, given her father is such a strong character, expect more of the current frictions to continue.

And even Clijsters is not – according to the Net Post’s colleagues in the Belgian press – as affable and approachable as she used to be. She does not relish it when they come to watch her practise, their time with her is limited, they do not get the kind of access to her current coach, Wim Fissette, as they did to her previous coaches, Carl Maes and Marc Dehous, both of whom now work on Belgian TV. They are more than a touch rattled by that.

Interesting times.

One Response to “A Collective Noun of Belgians”

  1. [...] The Belgian team is (a) incredibly overpowered for a tie against Estonia, and (b) likely to produce the most interesting internal dynamics … [...]

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