It might be a sign of the apocalypse but it is indeed true. I agree with Brad Gilbert that Justine Henin-Hardenne should have played until the end of the final of the Australian Open. Henin-Hardenne retired in the second set, after losing the first to first-time slam winner Amelie Mauresmo, with an upset stomach. Yes, an upset stomach. No, she did not throw up on the court, take a bathroom break, or turn a funny shade of yellow/green.
First, before I tear into Henin-Hardenne, I think Mauresmo should be given major kudos. Most of the press will be about Henin-Hardenne and the way she ended the match and I hope Mauresmo's accomplishment is not completely overshadowed by this. My 2006 predictions from December picked this year for Mauresmo to finally rid herself of that ugly moniker "Best Woman to Never Win a Slam." Maybe this bodes well for the other part of my prediction about Mauresmo! Here's hoping.
So should Mauresmo (even though she says she never reads the press about herself) or Mauresmo fans happen to come across this blog I just want to reiterate that nothing makes this win less impressive. The fact that three women retired against her just proves that she was fit enough physically and mentally to make it through the grueling conditions in Australia this year.
So back to Henin-Hardenne. Bud Collins asked Mauresmo in the post-match conference is the retirement was unprofessional. It was an unfair question and Bud should know better. (I could go on and on about the stupid questions journalists ask players in these conferences but I will save that for another time.) Mauresmo said she would not comment and create controversy (props) but added that she would have died out there today.
Let me just say that I am not a proponent of the "no pain, no gain" philosophy that has been perverted to an often troubling masochistic tendency, but Henin-Hardenne should have played through this ailment. She was at no risk of doing more damage by continuing to play. And given Pete Sampras's own struggle with stomach problems in the past, even if she had thrown up on court, it would have been a sign of her dedication--win or lose.
But even though I agree with Gilbert, and of course the numerous others who will chime in during the coming days, I worry about what this does for women's sport. Yes, it reflects badly on Henin-Hardenne who has had her character questioned in the past but those who already have doubts about women's dedication to and ability to compete at the highest level of sport will have a field day with this incident. Henin-Hardenne's cavalier attitude about the whole thing is of little help.
Refusing to end this on a sour note, though--I thought the women's draw at the Open was incredible this year. There was no clear-cut favorite between the unknowns (how will the Williams sisters play?) and the injured (Clijsters, Sharapova) and Mauresmo played herself into this tournament gaining confidence and honing her game throughout. And she deserved to win.