Hail Justine Henin-Hardenne
! In the women's U.S. Open semi-finals, she played so hard for 3 hours against Jennifer Capriati that she had to have IV fluids after the match. She also played with a sprained left thigh muscle that gave her pain every time she served. She also won. By the next afternoon, however, she was feeling so bad that she considered dropping out of the tournament. But at the last minute, she showed up and defeated Kim Clijsters to win the U.S. Open.
Possibly the scrappiest player in the history of women's tennis, Henin-Hardenne has enormous physical and mental reserves, and seems at her best when she is pulling up from behind. Not to take anything away from her, but she had a peculiar situation in her last two U.S. Open matches: she played against two women who took choking to a new level.
Capriati--whose tennis is so good now that experts say it is better than during her reign--dominated Henin-Hardenne throughout the first set and the second. But when it came time to serve for the match--and she had plenty of chances to do so--Capriati fell apart, forcing a third set. She got behind then, caught up, but again lost her focus when it mattered, forcing a tie-break, which she lost.
Capriati's choking is a new phenomenon that has plagued her for about a year, and probably has to do with doubts, perhaps unconscious, about her age. But Clijsters has brought a propensity to weaken at the big moments to her career from the time that she became a tennis star. She earned a number-one ranking without ever winning a grand slam tournament, and this week, the tennis world was waiting for her to finally get rid of this particular embarrassment. But though she played brilliantly throughout the Open, she seemed to cave at the sight of the gutsy Henin-Hardenne, who has beaten Clijsters repeatedly.
If Clijsters and Capriati are not under the care of a sports psychologist or other mental health professional, then they are showing very poor judgment. And if they are
under such care, it's time for them to find new clinicians who can get them past whatever is going on. A skillful hypnotherapist, for example, could probably cure both of them of the weakness that plagues their matches. Both are far too talented to continue playing with such a significant mental handicap.