Tennis: The guru and the love match

Schnyder sacks coach to link with `doctor' under investigation
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The Independent Online
ANOTHER SCANDAL involving coaches in women's tennis surfaced on the opening day of the Evert Cup at Indian Wells in California when the Swiss 20-year-old Patty Schnyder admitted she had sacked her coach, dumped her boyfriend, left home and pledged allegiance to a 42-year-old German guru, Rainer Harnecker. His methods include a controversial blood-cleansing therapy in which the skin is perforated and a herbal mixture applied to the punctures.

Schnyder, who rose as high as ninth in the world rankings last year and who beat her world No 1 compatriot, Martina Hingis, last September, pleaded to be allowed to get on with her life and career after her first round 6-4 6-3 victory over Tamarine Tanasugarn. "I needed some new tips," was her explanation for dismissing Eric van Harpen, her coach for three years. "And my family left me, I didn't leave them. I think Rainer is worth trying. Now everyone has to let me get on and play tennis."

Schnyder's parents, Willy and Iris, who live in Bottmingen, Switzerland, are consulting a Swiss expert on cults in a bid to discover if their daughter is in any danger. Willy Schnyder flew to Australia in an unsuccessful attempt to persuade her to break up what is not only a working, but also a sexual relationship.

Harnecker is under investigation in Germany for allegedly practising medicine without the required permits. According to one of Harnecker's former proteges, the Austrian Sylvia Plischke, he also claims his methods can cure cancer and Aids.

Van Harpen said: "Of course she is in danger. All the people who love her and who are looking after her - her boyfriend, me, her parents - are all out. She has no wire to base any more. Everything was fine, everything was perfect. Maybe it was too perfect. I think perhaps she is rebelling and she likes the dangerous element about it. Everything in her life was so easy, so normal previously. Now she has something that everybody is against."

Last year marked Schnyder's big breakthrough. The fair-haired left-hander won five tournaments, more than any other woman. Before leaving for California, Schnyder and Harnecker appeared on a Swiss television sports programme and declared themselves to be a couple.

The Women's Tennis Association said that, while they were concerned, it was a private matter. "At the moment this is a personal issue for Patty," said the WTA chief executive, Bart McGuire. "We will monitor the situation and if we discover any violation of our coaches' code of ethics, appropriate action will be taken."

Plischke said the blood-cleansing therapy was applied with an instrument like a rolling pin with needles sticking out of it. "After he has punctured the skin it gets irritated," she said. "Then when he puts on the oils and herbs it itches a bit."

It was Van Harpen who introduced Schnyder and Plischke to Harnecker at his tennis camp in Majorca last December. Plischke was the first to receive Harnecker's attention but then, according to Van Harpen, he switched to Schnyder because association with her would provide more publicity. "Two days later Patty was gone," he said. "I saw it all coming but love was in it. I couldn't do anything."

Harnecker has also devised a new playing programme and diet for Schnyder. She is now a vegetarian who rejects eggs and milk, living on fruit and vegetables and drinking two litres of fresh orange juice daily. Plischke said she broke away from Harnecker when people warned her he was "a little bit weird". She added: "I just hope Patty is going to be fine."

If the 10th-seeded Schnyder wins her next match against the Austrian qualifier Alicia Molik, she will almost certainly play Hingis in the third round. The last time they played, in the semi-finals of the Compaq Grand Slam Cup last September, Schnyder scored her first-ever victory over Hingis.

Other winners in the Evert Cup first round included Serena Williams, fresh from her victory at the Open de Gaz tournament in Paris, and the 1994 Wimbledon champion, Conchita Martinez. Williams beat the South African qualifier Jessica Steck 6-1 7-5, while the 14th-seeded Martinez was taken to three sets, 6-2 4-6 6-2, by Belgium's Sabine Appelmans.

First-day shocks on court included victory by Cara Black, 20-year-old sister of the Zimbabwe Davis Cup team of Byron and Wayne Black, over Germany's Anke Huber 4-6 6-3 6-2. Also out was the 16th seed, Barbara Schett of Austria, beaten 6-4 6-4 by the American wild card Lilia Osterloh.