29 Apr. - 5 May 1999
Issue No. 427
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
Egypt Region International Economy Opinion Culture Profile Focus Special Travel Sports People Features Living Time Out Chronicles Cartoons Letters
Trouble with menBy Nashwa Abdel-Tawab
Patty Schnyder is one tennis player who opted to come to Egypt to play in the Dreamland Classic, even though the event clashed with the Hamburg Open. But she went out in the quarter-finals to Maureen Darke of Canada, ranked 64 in the world, perhaps raising questions in Schnyder's mind about her choice of venue and about her new coach.
The left-handed, 20-year-old considers 1998 her true birth in tennis. She won five titles last year, becoming only the 18th player in the modern age to accomplish the feat. She registered the biggest upset of her career at the 1998 US Open, defeating five-time champion Steffi Graf to reach her second Grand Slam quarter-final, just the 11th person to defeat Graf in a Grand Slam since 1987. She also served the sixth-fastest serve on the tour in 1998 at Amelia Island, timed at 113 miles (181.8 kilometres) an hour. Schnyder is currently ranked no. 10 in the world and no. 2 in her home country after world no. 1, Martina Hingis.
During her 1998 breakthrough, in which she rose to the Women Tennis Association's top 10 ranking, Schnyder came to be known as one of the most affable, level-headed teenagers on tour. She rose through the rankings on the strength of her artful strokes and natural ability, lived contentedly at home with her family and appeared to maintain a uniquely balanced lifestyle.
She attributed her success and stability in life to her parents and coach Eric Van Harpen. However, in early February, Schnyder asked her father to fire Van Harpen, who had introduced her to Rainer Harnecker in the hope that he could improve her conditioning.
"No one can deny that Van Harpen guided me perfectly in court and added to my tennis talents," Schnyder told the Weekly in a post-match interview. "However, off court he kept his distance, so I grew lonely. I would often sit alone in my hotel room longing for someone I could talk to about anything." According to Schnyder, Van Harpen always found something wrong with her, even in her biggest victories. Thus, she says, she was never really able to celebrate.
Schnyder says Harnecker is a good companion and fairly good as a tennis coach. "Now I feel comfortable off court," she said. But Schnyder's family believe she has fallen too much under Harnecker's influence and has put her career in jeopardy.
Harnecker, 42, claims to be able to heal cancer and AIDS patients, recommends drinking massive doses of orange juice and runs several fitness centres in Germany. German authorities are concerned about Harnecker and are questioning his techniques. He has admitted not taking any medical courses, saying he devised his techniques when he was 19 by studying books and animals in Africa, and with a Chinese doctor.
But he has no previous tennis experience as a coach or player. While he is officially listed as her trainer and not her coach, Harnecker has taken effective control of Schnyder's career, putting her on a self-dietary training and treatment programme which allowed Schnyder to lose five pounds in a few months.
After Van Harpen, however, she started losing tournaments as well. At Indian Wells, she was defeated in the third round by Hingis 6-1, 6-3. There were also indications that she was losing patience with Harnecker's methods. Newspapers, including Blick, the Swiss weekly Sonntagszeitung and Tennis Magazine have all recently attacked Harnecker's methods and his influence over Schnyder. But Schnyder defends him fiercely.
To the reporters who know her well, Schnyder did not look or play her normal self while in Cairo. "I am a human being," was her response. "I have my problems."
Mary Pierce, ranked 8th in the world, is an outstanding player, despite her much-publicised problems with her father, who, under a court order, is not allowed to attend any of her matches. The 24-year-old was introduced to tennis at the age of 10 by her father Willy, a tennis coach. Willy pushed his daughter hard, perhaps too hard, in an attempt to produce a champion. Once, he made her run behind his car for five hours because she lost a game.
"I got fed up with his actions," said Pierce, who made her pro debut in 1989 at 14, the youngest American to do so at the time. Having a French mother enabled Pierce to move to France after life with her father became unbearable. She has been playing for France since 1990. "They helped me a lot by giving me a coach and by supporting me financially," Pierce said of the French Tennis Federation. "Now I have no relation with dad. The court stands between us."
Like Patty Schnyder, Pierce passed up the Hamburg Open, believing that the Dreamland Egypt Classic was a useful clay court tournament in preparation for Roland Garros. She did not play doubles in Cairo because she wanted to enjoy the sightseeing. "When I heard about the tournament in Egypt, I agreed at once seizing the chance to see the country we used to read about in history books at school."
Pierce likes all kinds of courts but prefers clay since the ball travels slowly. "As long as it is slow, I like it," she said, although Pierce is known for her fast-paced rallies.
"As long as I am confident in myself and my abilities, I can do anything," she added.
If Pierce had to do it all over again, she would have chosen to play basketball. "I'm 180 centimetres tall and I like the game very much," she said. And if her father hadn't introduced her to sports, she would have been a pediatrician instead. "I like children very much," Pierce said.
Pierce resides in the US with her Puerto Rican boyfriend, a baseball player who wears No 12 on his jersey -- the same number inscribed on the gold necklace adorned by Pierce. Wearing several rings and necklaces, Pierce speaks slowly and always smiles. She can speak about anything -- but would rather skip the part about her father. .