Friday, January 05, 2007

So what about Pete Sampras's wife?

A large image of Justine Henin-Hardenne is displayed outside the Family Circle Cup stadium near Charleston, South Carolina. Henin-Hardenne won the tournament in 2005 as part of an impressive comeback from serious illness and injury.


World number one tennis player Justine Henin-Hardenne, always a magnet for controversy, has withdrawn from all of the Australian tournaments, including the Australian Open, where she was seeded number one. The only explanation she has given is that the withdrawals are for "personal, family reasons."

Speculation abounds. On the main women's tennis board, people think there is an impending divorce between Henin-Hardenne and her husband, Pierre-Yves Hardenne. There has long been speculation about Hardenne's sexual orientation, so people are having a field day. Over at Tennis.com, however, columnist Peter Bodo has taken a different path of speculation. He also thinks that the problem is with the tennis star's marriage. Bodo, however--who duly noted that Hardenne was not in attendance at the French Open, which his wife won--suggests that Hardenne simply couldn't deal with being a sports superstar's add-on husband, and wanted a life. Complicating the matter is the fact that Henin-Hardenne's long-time coach, Carlos Rodriguez, is also a very, very important person in her life, serving as a mentor, friend and father figure.

There were many comments to Bodo's post, but what was disturbing was that only one commenter mentioned the obvious: What if the tables were turned, and Hardenne were the tennis star? Would anyone be speculating that his wife was leaving because she didn't want to be an add-on?

It's a question worth asking at a time when wives are still expected to be add-ons. Pete Sampras married in 2000, when he was still competing, and he and his wife bragged about how she had given up her career to support his. No one said "How can she stand being an add-on?"

Other male tennis stars have married while they were still competing. Andre Agassi married Steffi Graf, but since she is considered one of the greatest players, male or female, of all time, there was really no issue; Graf had already retired. Lleyton Hewitt married Australian actor Bec Cartright, but she has not returned to acting since she had the couple's first child.

In 1979, English tennis player John Lloyd married tennis star Chris Evert, and, as his own ranking plummeted, he was constantly referred to as Evert's add-on, and sports writers discussed how much his pride must hurt. It is hard to imagine that anyone would have cared if the situation had been the other way around, and Evert's career had waned while Lloyd's expanded.

In 2003, women's star Lindsay Davenport married former All-American Jon Leach, brother of player Rick Leach. Leach was not talked about as an add-on, but that is probably because Davenport has never been a "star" in the way other famous athletes are. In fact, an argument could be made that Davenport is the least celebrity-like of any famous athlete of our time. The ever-offensive Pam Shriver, however, did worry about the possibility that someone might call Jon Leach "Mr. Davenport."

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