Gilbert Says Henin No Match for Low-Ranked Men

Posted on January 24, 2004

By Richard Vach,

Henin-Hardenne says men's and women's tennis is totally differentBrad Gilbert, the current coach of world No. 1 Andy Roddick and formerly of No. 1 Andre Agassi, resurrected the battle of the sexes debate at the Australian Open this week when he said that women's No. 1 Justine Henin-Hardenne could not beat the No. 1,000-ranked player on the ATP Rankings.

"There's well over 1,000 guys, more, who could beat her," Gilbert said. "Justine is a good little player, but she's about 5 feet, 5 inches, and about 125 pounds. She couldn't come close to beating one guy in the (Australian Open) draw."

Perhaps the marquee match-up would not be between Henin-Hardenne and the No. 1,000-ranked player, but between "Beej" himself and the women's No. 1. The 42-year-old Gilbert reached a career-high No. 4 during his playing days, and keeps his skills sharp by sparring with his ward Roddick.

Henin-Hardenne, who lost to Yannick Noah 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(1) in a December exhibition that was low on intensity and high on Noah-type clowning, would likely need some convincing before stepping on court for such a serious bout.

"To be honest I don't care very much because men's and women's tennis is totally different," she said. "Our bodies are so different that you cannot compare the two."

Serena Williams, up until a couple years ago, had considered stepping on court with a lower-ranked men's player until she suddenly came to the conclusion (or was convinced by her entourage) that it would not be in her best interest. Back in 2000 there was even talk of John McEnroe stepping into the ring, with $1 million offered by Donald Trump to see Johnny Mac and either Williams sister face off.

In 1998 both Serena and Venus were beaten easily in one practice set each by chain-smoking German doubles specialist Karsten Braasch on an Australian Open practice court. The Williams sisters were hanging out in the ATP office, boasting how they could beat the No. 200-ranked man, when in walked the No. 203-ranked Braasch. According to onlookers, Braasch delighted in slicing, dicing, and drop-shotting the sisters, who were not well-acquainted with opponents that had more in their arsenal than a hard flat forehand and backhand. Braasch beat Serena 6-1, and Venus 6-2.

There have been contentious comments between the men and women over the years, with former No. 1 Marcelo Rios calling women's tennis a "joke" in 1991, then laughing off a challenge from Martina Hingis, and coming under attack by Jennifer Capriati and Venus Williams. Rios later framed his comment, saying he was referring to the depth of women's tennis compared to the men, whereas the top men frequently struggle with talented lower-ranked opponents, while the top women record double bagels against their lower-ranked colleagues.

"It is ridiculous what is going on in women's tennis and everybody agrees, but I'm not going to start arguing with every girl who says it's not true," said Rios at the time.

Last year was the 30th anniversary of the Billie Jean King/Bobby Riggs Battle of the Sexes, where the 55-year-old, out-of-shape, overconfident Riggs was soundly beaten by King, a tour player at the time. That high-profile encounter came on the heels of a lower-profile win by Riggs over Margaret Court, who Riggs masterfully beat-down mentally before she even took to the court.

With the changes in racquet technology over the last 10 years, some of the women on tour, led by Henin-Hardenne and the Williams sisters, frequently strike the ball off the ground harder than some of the men. Can you picture Gilbert trying to push his junkball game from the baseline against Henin-Hardenne, or see him chipping and charging, only to see the Belgian's stunning one-handed backhand painting the line?

Gilbert has been known, both in his playing days and as a coach, as someone not afraid to "talk the talk" -- or for that matter talk about anything, anywhere, to anyone, especially if the topic is sports. Gilbert opened this can of worms, so perhaps he should be the one to bait the hook and cast his rod, setting a match up for a pay-per-view extravaganza.

Like Riggs against Court, perhaps the smack-talking Gilbert could beat Henin-Hardenne before he even steps on the court. Or perhaps, like Riggs and King, talking the machismo talk is not the same as walking the machismo walk.

Richard Vach ( is a senior writer for