Henin to begin return to tennis in Sydney

Monday, December 21, 2009
Four-time French Open champion Justine Henin confirmed on Monday that her comeback to tennis would begin in little more than a fortnight at Sydney's Medibank International, where she is to join a field headed by world number one Serena Williams.
 
The three-time champion at Olympic Park was awarded a wild card for the WTA event, which begins January 10 and serves as a tune-up for the Australian Open starting a week later.

Nine of the women ranked in the world top 10 are entered although the fitness situation is dicey for 2009 finalist Dinara Safina, who withdrew from the Brisbane event the week before with long-term back pain.
 
"I have a lot of happy memories of Sydney, so I'm looking forward to returning in January as part of my preparation for the Australian Open," Henin said in a statement. "The draw is very impressive.
 
"It will be great to get some tough, competitive matches before heading to Melbourne."
 
Henin, who retired unexpectedly in May 2008, saying she felt burned out, won the Sydney event in 2004, 2006 and 2008.
 
The 27-year-old stood atop the rankings for 117 non-consecutive weeks and won seven Grand Slam singles titles, including the Australian Open in 2004.
 
Included in the women's field are also Svetlana Kuznetsova, Dane Caroline Wozniacki and holder Elena Dementieva. The men's line-up is to feature Lleyton Hewitt, Gael Monfils, Tomas Berdych and Marcos Baghdatis.

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A Year of Farewells, Returns and Surprises in Tennis

Tuesday, December 15, 2009
It was a sentimental tennis season. Marat Safin, Amélie Mauresmo and Ai Sugiyama retired and actually appeared to mean it. Meanwhile, the unretired Kim Clijsters clutched the United States Open trophy as her 18-month-old daughter, Jada, toddled around the hard court where her mother had played with such strength and composure.

It was a controversial season. Serena Williams failed anger management at the United States Open but somehow avoided suspension. Israeli players generated diplomatic incidents in Dubai, where Shahar Peer was not given a visa for the women’s tournament, and in Sweden, where officials in Malmo cited security concerns in barring fans from a Davis Cup match against Israel.

It was a literary season, as Williams and the retired Andre Agassi produced autobiographies that were more revealing than the usual as-told-to filler that passes for sports literature.

Above all, it was a historic season, with Roger Federer becoming a family man and the career leader in Grand Slam singles titles. Federer finally won the French Open, the only major singles title he was missing. He then rode the wave — with his archrival Rafael Nadal absent — and won his record 15th major title at Wimbledon, the game’s favorite throwback and newly equipped with a translucent, retractable roof that was not closed for any of Federer’s matches. His latest title further bolstered the argument that he is the greatest player of all time.

Though he hardly dominated week in, week out in 2009, he reached the final of all four majors and regained the year-end ranking he had lost to Nadal in 2008. How easy then to forget that until May, this looked like Year 2 of Nadal’s reign, with the Majorcan launching his season by disposing of Federer in a five-set Australian Open final that left the Swiss star muttering, “God, it’s killing me,” through the tears at the awards ceremony.

But public breakdowns apparently do not end eras. Nor do minor tantrums, like the one Federer indulged in by throwing his racket for the first time in years in Miami. Nadal would eventually get derailed by knee problems and by Robin Soderling, the Swede who dealt Nadal his first loss at the French Open.

Federer has now turned into a scrapper in his middle tennis age. He had to claw his way through multiple five-setters to win at last in Paris and then had to keep holding serve in the Wimbledon final before finally prevailing, 16-14, over Andy Roddick in the fifth.

Federer could not hold off Juan Martín del Potro at the United States Open, however, as the towering del Potro gradually settled into his first Grand Slam final. He pounded enough thunderous forehand winners to end Federer’s 40-match winning streak in New York and to become the first Argentine man to win there since Guillermo Vilas in 1977.

Just to remind Federer and Nadal that the new guard will not be the only threat to their status in 2010, Nikolay Davydenko — a member of the establishment — beat Nadal, Federer and del Potro to win the year-end tour championships in London.

SHOTS OF THE YEAR A YouTube poll would surely favor Federer’s no-look, between-the-legs winner off a lob from Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of the United States Open. But the shot that really made all the difference for Federer came in the fourth round of the French Open against Tommy Haas. Down two sets to none and facing a break point at 3-4, Federer let fly with an inside-out forehand that caught the line. Federer said he knew then and there that he was going to win the tournament.

On the women’s side, it might not have been pretty, but Serena Williams’s lunging backhand volley against Elena Dementieva in a Wimbledon semifinal saved match point. Even if it clipped the net, it was a winner. Williams went on to win her third Wimbledon.

UPSETS OF THE YEAR No debate necessary for the men: Soderling’s victory over Nadal at Roland Garros. As for the women, Carla Suárez Navarro’s defeat of Venus Williams in the Australian Open certainly made waves. So did Sybille Bammer’s straight-set defeat of Serena Williams in Cincinnati. But it was the combined effect of Melanie Oudin’s run of upsets at the United States Open that made the biggest impression. Oudin, a 17-year-old American, knocked off three imposing Russians: Dementieva, Maria Sharapova and Nadia Petrova. Oudin has yet to win another main-draw match.

COMEBACKS OF THE YEAR Clijsters, the first unranked player to win a major singles title since Evonne Goolagong in 1977, is the obvious choice, but in any other season, the prize would have gone to Kimiko Date Krumm, the Japanese icon who won a tournament in Seoul at 38 after taking a nearly 12-year break from the game between 1996 and 2008.

For the men, Haas might have failed to close the deal against Federer in Paris, but he did get the job done against Marin Cilic and Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon in reaching the semifinals at 31. For the year, he improved his ranking 66 spots, finishing No. 18.

FLOPS OF THE YEAR The smooth-moving Ernests Gulbis of Latvia was on nearly everyone’s list of players to watch in 2009. He finished the year at No. 90. Ana Ivanovic, the 2008 French Open champion and former No. 1, struggled to get it right all season. Still charming, she was no longer as convincing with her serve or forehand, dropping out of the top 20 and failing to advance past the fourth round in a Slam.

MATCHES OF THE YEAR Serena Williams’s victory over Dementieva at Wimbledon was a three-set tussle brimming with athleticism, quality and courage. But Clijsters’ victory over Serena in the United States Open semifinals was more than a match. It was a spectacle wrapped up in a scandal. Clijsters kept her cool, and Williams most certainly did not as she threatened and swore at a lineswoman for calling a foot fault. Clijsters never had to win match point, but her brilliant play certainly brought Williams to the boiling point.

Nadal’s five-set victory over Fernando Verdasco in the Australian Open semifinals was an ode to tireless hitting and hard running. Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic had to play for more than six hours and withstand a record 78 aces before prevailing over Ivo Karlovic of Croatia in the Davis Cup semifinals. But Federer-Roddick gets the nod on the strength and length of the occasion. Even if Federer didn’t play his best, he served brilliantly. And Roddick, who will probably never get so close to another major singles title, was such a class act in defeat.

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Erakovic eyes return to rankings

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Marina Erakovic has no doubts she can put an injury-blighted year behind her and stage a climb back up the tennis rankings.

"Oh yeah, without a doubt," she said. "Definitely."

Now ranked 234th in the world, Erakovic will again begin the new season at the ASB Classic in Auckland in the first week of January, having been granted a wildcard this week to the WTA Tour event along with fellow New Zealander Sacha Jones.

It was her performance as a 19-year-old at the 2008 Classic, when she reached the semifinals, upsetting top seeded Russian Vera Zvonareva along the way, that started a big move up the rankings, peaking at a career-best 49th six months later after she made the third round at Wimbledon.

However, this year, a hip problem and then a sprained ankle sidelined Erakovic for seven months.

She played three ITF events after her return to competition in late October, twice getting into the main draw, where she lost in the first round.

Erakovic said the long layoff had been a new experience for her and, while she had got over her injuries, she was lacking match play.

"It's the matches that I'm needing - playing a lot of tournaments and getting used to those situations again," she said.

"And while I've not been playing, everyone else has been working hard and improving, so you have to catch up again, but it's made me a lot stronger as well."

The toughest part about being out of action was watching tennis on the television and wishing she was out there, Erakovic said.

She was at home for the first few months and wasn't able to do much.

"I was a couch potato and that was really hard," she said.

"But once I was back training again I was really hungry."

Because of her enforced inactivity, Erakovic has a protected ranking which she can use to get her into up to eight WTA Tour events next year.

"I would love to do well in those, get a good ranking again in the top 100, and still play the WTA," she said.

The first of the eight events she was targeting were the Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami.

Erakovic's injury woes have seen her overtaken by Jones as New Zealand's top female player.

Jones, 19, had her own injury problems early this year, but came back with a vengeance to win five ITF titles.

She strung together 24 consecutive match victories in winning four of those titles and making the final of another event, and will head into the Classic with a ranking of 167.

Rather than expressing any disappointment over losing the mantle of the country's No 1, Erakovic praised Jones for her run of results.

"I'm happy for her and it's a great thing to have two of us on tour," she said.

"It's a great thing for the Fed Cup if there's two of us. The more players we have, the better."

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Nine of women's tennis top 10 to play at Sydney

Monday, December 7, 2009

SYDNEY — Nine of the women's top 10 will compete at January's Sydney International in the lead-up to the Australian Open Grand Slam, according to organisers.

World No. 1 Serena Williams heads the line-up, which also includes Dinara Safina, French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, Caroline Wozniacki and Elena Dementieva.

Victoria Azarenka, Jelena Jankovic, Vera Zvonareva and Agnieszka Radwanska also join a field boosted by Australia's No. 13 Samantha Stosur and Italy's Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone.

The only top-10 player missing will be world No. 6 Venus Williams, who will warm up for the first Grand Slam of the year with an exhibition match in Thailand.

France's Gael Monfils, ranked 13, leads a men's field that includes Tomas Berdych, Australia's former No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt and one-time Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis.

"We are delighted with our confirmed player line-ups, in particular our women's field, which is certainly the strongest in the event's history," tournament director Craig Watson said.

"To have nine of the top 10 women in the world playing in Sydney is incredible and tennis fans would be hard-pressed to find a more impressive line-up, outside the Grand Slams, anywhere in the world."

Organisers will leave open spots in both draws for wildcards and qualifiers for the January 10-16 tournament.

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Two-Time Grand Slam Winner Mauresmo Retires From Tennis

Thursday, December 3, 2009
Veteran tennis player and former world No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo, 30, announced her retirement from the sport Wednesday.

Mauresmo won two-grand slams in her career.

Back in 2006, she was regarded as the greatest female players to ever play and not win a grand slam. She claimed Wimbledon that year, effectively putting an end to that sentiment.

In addition to her tour performance, she represented France in the 2000 and 2004 Olympic games, as well as the French Fed Cup for seven years.

Often the target of jabs by other players, including Lindsay Davenport and Martina Hingis, who both publically observed a 'manly' style to her play, Mauresmo's physique was her most notable quality when she took the court.

Extremely muscular and decidedly powerful, she told the press she was a lesbian, which fueled some of the comments directed her way.

Renown both for her athletic talent as well as personal bravery, she was easily one of the most popular and controversial figures on the tour.

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Mauresmo set to announce tennis future

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Former Australian Open winner Amelie Mauresmo is expected to announce whether or not she will continue her tennis career at a scheduled press conference on Thursday.

Mauresmo announced in October she was skipping her final two tournaments of the season, and rumours have swirled since that she is considering hanging up her racquet for good.

The Frenchwoman got off to a good start early in the season, winning the Paris Indoor Open, but struggled to maintain her form.

The former world No.1, and two-time grand slam winner, was dumped out of the second round of the US Open by Canada's Aleksandra Wozniak in her last match.

She is currently ranked 21st in the WTA rankings.

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Serena Williams is fined $82,500

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Serena Williams, who reclaimed the No. 1 ranking in women's tennis this season, was fined a record $82,500 Monday for her profanity-laced outburst during the U.S. Open in September and could be suspended from the event if she commits another major infraction in the next two years.

The sanctions were announced Monday by Grand Slam administrator Bill Babcock after nearly three months of deliberation over how to discipline the most dominant player in women's tennis for an ugly tirade that was captured on national television and replayed countless times on sports highlight shows and YouTube.

In it, Williams cursed and physically threatened a lineswoman who called her for a foot fault, a seldom-cited infraction, just two points shy of match point in her semifinal against the tournament's eventual winner, wild card Kim Clijsters of Belgium.

The fine, while without precedent, represents a small fraction (8.25 percent) of the $1 million Williams could have been fined under the sport's code of conduct. It represents an even smaller fraction (about 1.25 percent) of the $6.5 million she earned this season, a record for a female tennis player.

"I am thankful that we now have closure on the incident, and we can all move forward," Williams said in statement released by her Los Angeles-based publicist. "I am back in training in preparation for next season, and I continue to be grateful for all of the support from my fans and the tennis community."

By every other measure, it was an exceptional year for Williams, 28, who captured two of the season's four major titles (the Australian Open and Wimbledon), became the first female tennis player to earn more than $6 million in a season and finished the year at No. 1 for the second time in her career, having achieved the feat in 2002.


Williams also published an autobiography, "On the Line," and diversified her business portfolio, acquiring an ownership stake in the Miami Dolphins and launching a new skin-care line.

According to the news release issued by the Grand Slam committee, which supervises competition at the sport's four majors, Williams was technically fined $175,000, which includes $10,000 she was fined in the immediate aftermath of the offense. That fine, however, has been reduced by half, to $82,500, provided she does not commit another major offense at any of the majors through 2011.

Similarly, the release stated, Williams will be suspended from the U.S. Open for one year if she commits another major offense at a Grand Slam event in the next two years. She could have been suspended from the next major, the Australian Open in January.

Stacey Allaster, chairwoman and chief executive of the Women's Tennis Association, hailed Williams as "a great champion and role model to millions" in a statement released Monday and noted that Williams had already apologized for her behavior in September.

"I have no doubt that she has learned from this incident, and that we will never see her act in this manner again," Allaster said in a statement.

But in an e-mail exchange, former touring pro Mary Carillo, a sports commentator with ESPN, questioned why it took tennis officials three months to come up with what she called a "cockamamie decision."

"Serena Williams physically threatened and verbally assaulted an official during one of the most watched tennis matches of 2009, and after three months of thoughtful, considered cogitation the Grand Slam Committee came up with 'Grand Slam Probation' and a 'suspended ban'?" Carillo wrote. "And half of what was deemed to be her fine? Boy, that ought to show everyone."

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