In rolling out some new features for 2013, I’ve decided to get on board with the ‘Throwback Thursday’ or ‘TBT’ fad. However, you won’t be seeing baby pictures or awkward preteen pictures in this space; instead, I’ll be taking a look at some of my favorite players and matches from years gone by.
And maybe some crazy; everybody likes the crazy. To kick it off, let’s take a look back at the career of WTA stalwart Patty Schnyder.
I can look back on a great career, so many years…But, yeah, I know what I achieved, and I’m so happy that I could be part of so many great players, such a great era, and could be among the top athletes of the world. – Patty Schnyder
In a career that spanned over 15 years, Schnyder peaked at #7 in the rankings, reached the semifinals of the Australian Open in 2004, six other Grand Slam quarterfinals and won 11 singles titles. Despite her numerous accomplishments, Schnyder remains somewhat of an enigma in the tennis community.
In 2003, Schnyder married Rainer Hoffman, who had traveled with her since 1999 and became her full time coach later in 2003. Hofmann was convicted for fraud in Germany as a result of his ‘business dealings’ with the national communications firm Deutsche Telekom. He pled guilty in 2002 to embezzling what was equivalent to $400,000 at the time, and was sentenced to three years of probation.
Schnyder and Hoffman are a match made in…well, somewhere. These two have a completely healthy relationship, but more on them later.
Schnyder was never one to hold back to the media in regards to her colleagues, and let’s just say she was never the most popular one in the locker room. Let’s first look at this gem from Jon Wertheim’s 2003 Sports Illustrated Mailbag.
The WTA Tour came out with its gold and silver exempt lists for 2003. The “winners” were Anna Kournikova, Amanda Coetzer, Alexandra Stevenson and Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario, who all made the list despite being ranked outside the top 20. This didn’t sit well with Patty Schnyder, currently No. 18, who responded in an e-mail to tour officials: “Very funny. Perhaps in the next year Michael Jackson [can get] a gold exempt and Donald Duck a special silver exempt.”
Or perhaps this, from the 2009 Western & Southern Open – the tournament where Kim Clijsters made her return after a two-year absence.
Q. Big challenge, maybe Kim Clijsters.
PATTY SCHNYDER: Yeah, I don’t know who I’m gonna pick tonight. It’s a very tough one. I think for the first match after two years coming back it’s Bartoli.
Q. But she is Belgian.
PATTY SCHNYDER: It’s not that I hope that Bartoli wins.
Schnyder would face Clijsters in the next round, and following a 62 75 defeat, she spoke at length to the media about what went wrong in the match.
Q. What was most difficult about playing her today?
PATTY SCHNYDER: No, she just had a great start, first of all. Then, yeah, she just is a great athlete. She’s striking the ball great.
Yeah, it was really tough to get the rallies going and to get some advantage in the rallies.
Q. Is it more difficult since she’s been off the tour for a while to know what to expect?
PATTY SCHNYDER: No.
Q. So you had a good idea of what she…
PATTY SCHNYDER: Yeah.
As Schnyder’s game declined in late 2011, her sharp tongue did not. After defeating Ana Ivanovic in Dubai that year, Schnyder weighed in on the Serb’s struggles and gave her a vote of confidence.
Q. Ana is seemingly intent on getting back to where she was in the past. Bearing that in mind, are you surprised perhaps that you were able to win tonight, that, again, it’s another early exit for her?
PATTY SCHNYDER: Yeah, I mean, I thought she had her game back like end of last year. But, I mean, obviously the competition is tough on the women’s side. She just cannot around to let go 10% of her game. Then everyone is all over her as well.
One of the players Schnyder particularly took issue with over her career was Conchita Martinez. Martinez’s habit of requesting the same ball after winning a point when the two played irritated Schnyder, and at the Family Circle Cup in 2004, it all came to a head. This match is the one that I believe made Pam Shriver a commentating legend…in her own mind.
Asked why she didn’t shake Martinez’s hand at the net, Schnyder responded:
Q. Patty, when you approached at the net, it looked like you were about to shake hands and then you pulled away. Did you decide at the last minute?
PATTY SCHNYDER: No. I just wanted to look at her. I just wanted to stare into her eyes what I wanted to say to her and so I have to have the hand before and then I took it away.
Next, there was “The Hand: The Redux” against Maria Sharapova at the 2007 French Open, a moment which could have arguably changed the outcome of the match. (5:21)
Then of course, there was the legendary ‘hand-slap and Rainer tantrum’ incident of Luxembourg 2007. Just watch the video.
However, Schnyder’s most infamous moments did not come on the court. Her curtness and brashness with her fellow players and the media starkly contrasted with what became the long, drawn-out circus of her personal life.
In digging through Schnyder’s media history, one will stumble upon Natasha Woods’ article “The guru, the fraudster, his ex-wife and the player”, from a February 2004 issue of the Sunday Herald. In the piece, Woods recounts Schnyder and Hoffman’s bizarre love story.
In 1998, on the heels of her breakthrough season, Schnyder first met another Rainer, therapist Rainer Harnecker, who was “in his forties and an alternative medicine practitioner.” Schnyder became estranged from her family and subscribed to some of Harnecker’s more…interesting practices.
…Schnyder rose to No. 8 in the rankings, but her career was already unravelling in public and humiliating fashion. Harnecker, by now her lover, convinced her to turn vegan and drink up to three litres of orange juice a day. (Woods)
Schnyder’s parents, Willy and Iris, hired Hoffman as a private detective, “who had apparently had some success deprogramming former cult members,” to “rescue” their daughter. Fun stuff, eh?
“Instead of reuniting her with her parents Hofmann took over Harnecker’s role, just minus all the crazy orange juice stuff,” said [Roger] Davidson, [the intermediary for Schnyder's parents.]
The family feared she was being exploited for financial gain, but Schnyder stood by her boyfriend even when he was forced to admit defrauding Deutsche Telekom and when his ex-wife had to go to court to prove the paternity of her child, fathered by Hofmann while he was still married to her, but already seeing Patty. (Woods)
Following her retirement, Schnyder and Hoffman allegedly went on the run to avoid debt payments, furniture, rackets and tennis balls from their abandoned home were auctioned and were flat broke as the two owed almost 400,000 francs to creditors. Schnyder has rarely, if ever, been heard from since her retirement, but for a player who earned approximately $8.4 million over her career, the rumors that persist are quite shocking.
Love makes people do crazy things. Or something.