Henin-Hardenne takes game sky-high

MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:26 AM ET

Perhaps skydiving will be added to the rehab program for injured or ill tennis players.

Apparently, jumping from a plane helped Belgian Justine Henin-Hardenne during her seven months away from tennis late last year and early this year.

Sidelined by the energy-sapping cytomegalovirus -- 80% of American adults have the virus, but it does not affect most of them -- the 2003 Toronto Rogers Cup champion decided to keep busy by free-falling from the air 19 times.

You can't argue with the results. The No. 4 seed this week at the Rexall Centre returned to tennis this year and won the second Grand Slam, the French Open.

"I did skydiving because I needed something that excited me," the 23-year-old Henin-Hardenne said yesterday. "I didn't get my emotions on the court, so I had to find them somewhere else. I jumped from a plane and I can tell you, it's a lot of emotion."

Leaping from 4,000 metres, Henin-Hardenne was following in the footsteps of her husband, Pierre-Yves Hardenne, a regular skydiver.

"You forget about everything else, you forget who you are, who lives with you and what you do," said Justine Henin-Hardenne, who took a jump a day after winning Olympic gold last year. "You just fly for a minute."

This year, Henin-Hardenne has returned to the air a couple of times but hasn't felt a great urge to do so because she is experiencing plenty of rushes on the tennis court. While a bum hamstring has bothered her since the French Open, she is shooting to be in top form for all of 2006.

Henin-Hardenne remembers waking up one day last April and feeling something was wrong. She kept playing at times -- including at the Olympics -- but often was fatigued, even after a simple hour of practice.

"It has been very, very difficult," she said. "It's one of the worst experiences I have had in my life. I didn't know if I could win again."

Fortunately, Henin-Hardenne answered that question at the world's top clay court tournament.

"Every time I get tired, I think, 'Oh, maybe it's coming back,' " she said. "I'm scared a little bit ... but I think I'm much better."

After winning the final pro event at the old National Tennis Centre, Henin-Hardenne will begin her quest to win the first women's event at the Rexall Centre tomorrow.

She likes the new digs, even though she has fond memories of the creaky old facility.

"I was very superstitious in the past," she said. "But not anymore. (The stadium) has nothing to do with it."


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