Nadal wins dazzling slugfest over Ferrer

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

You wouldn't want to have been a tennis ball getting clobbered about court in this high velocity encounter Tuesday that sent Rafael Nadal through to the quarterfinals of the Sony Ericsson Open.

Ouch! The balls used for this match that saw Nadal emerge as a 7-6, 6-4 winner over David Ferrer will go back into their cans for re-sale battered and bruised. Is it possible to hit a ball harder with a tennis racket? Probably not. A large, often stunned, but always noisy crowd basking in the Miami sunshine gasped time and again as 15-, 16-, 20-stroke rallies sent the ball flashing back and forth across the net at speeds that defied the eye.

It's talent and timing that allows players of this caliber to produce such amazing tennis, of course, but it is also the Big Banger strings which have transformed the game over the past decade. They take so much spin that baseliners like Nadal and Ferrer can take mighty swings at the ball, safe in the knowledge that, if their timing is right, it will stay in court.

There was one instance in the second set when the pro-Nadal crowd let out sighs of dismay as a huge, lofted forehand seemed to be sailing long. But Rafa had imparted so much spin on his shot that it dipped at the last moment and landed smack on the baseline.

Slugfests between these two Spaniards are nothing new. They were meeting for the 12th time and now Nadal has won nine of their encounters. But the muscular, 17th-ranked Ferrer is rarely easy to beat. In fact, for a typical clay-courter, he has a remarkable record on hard courts, having reached the semifinals here in successive years (2005-06) and the U.S. Open semifinal the following year when he beat Nadal in four sets in the Round of 16.

Today, the first set could have gone either way, and for much of it Nadal was just hanging in there, trying to make sure that he could get on the end of Ferrer's raking drives. Another huge rally developed on set point at 6-5 in the breaker, which Rafa eventually won by forcing his opponent to put a forehand wide.

After that Nadal always looked the likely winner and showed his class by ending one of the most superlative rallies you will ever see by suddenly moving forward into his backhand and undercutting a high-bouncing ball, turning it into a winning drop shot with sweet precision. The place went nuts.

Mardy Fish had a sad day. His suffered a leg spasm out on the Grandstand Court and, and after a long period of courtside treatment, he was unable to continue, defaulting to Mikhail Youzhny of Russia after the first set.

"A little bit of bad luck, obviously," said Fish, who has been feeling great recently as a result of a strict diet. "I lost the feeling in my leg for a couple of minutes," he explained. "Then I got it back at the changeover. Just excruciating pain. I mean, I was doubled over. I could hardly breathe. I thought maybe in two games I would get it back. But it never loosened up. Just tightened up so much I could hardly walk."

Meanwhile, Mardy's pal Andy Roddick was extricating himself from a 1-4, 0-40 situation against the German Benjamin Becker (no relation to Boris). Roddick managed to come through to win 7-6, 6-3 by improving his first service ratio and staying positive.

"He came out aggressive and ready to play from the first ball," said Roddick. "I was maybe looking to work my way into the match a little bit more than he afforded me. But then my serve slowly started inching its way up. At 0-30 it's nice to be able to make some first serves."

Roddick, who will now meet Spain's Nicolas Almagro, will be playing an exhibition doubles with Jim Courier here on Friday night to raise money for the Chilean earthquake fund. Roddick played down his willingness to help good causes but he is never slow to step up when he feels something needs to be done.

"Even if things go great and I'm in the final here, I'll still play because it's necessary and what needs to be done. It's above what we do. It's bigger than a tennis match."

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Venus remains as imposing as ever

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- Before her self-imposed, non-negotiable annual Indian Wells hiatus, Venus Williams had more momentum than anyone else on the women's tour. She's 14-1 this season going into the Sony Ericsson Open, with two titles and a fat check from an exhibition in Madison Square Garden.

Williams' sole loss thus far has come in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, and she had to beat only one top-10 player en route to defending her titles in Dubai and Acapulco, but this has been an auspicious start for a player who would like to add to her haul of seven Grand Slam singles trophies.

"Win, win, win, win,'' she sang pleasantly when a reporter asked her about her 2010 goals. She'll try to pick up where she left off Thursday, when she takes the court for the night's featured match -- a slot originally occupied by her injured sister, whose knee problem has sidelined her since she stormed to another Australian Open championship.

This event used to be Venus' cup of tea, starting back when Lipton sponsored it. She won three championships and reeled off 22 straight wins in Key Biscayne between 1998 and 2002 but hasn't been back to the final since 2001. The years since haven't exactly been fallow, especially on the lawns of Wimbledon, but it does seem puzzling that Williams hasn't made more of an impact recently in a venue that's a quick drive down I-95 from her own backyard. Just don't suggest that the world No. 5 has a better chance in this edition because the world No. 1 and five-time champion, Serena Williams, happens to be missing.

"I don't base my confidence on who's in the draw,'' Venus said. She wouldn't be baited into discussing her sister's plight, either: "I don't answer questions about my own injuries, let alone someone else's. Hopefully you'll be able to track her down in one of these hallways if you can see her, spy her out.''

Venus radiated good humor in her pre-tournament sit-down with reporters, and why not? She may not always win-win-win, but she's managed over the long haul to conquer perhaps the most insidious opponent of all: burnout.

"Serena and I have done some great career planning, and we're playing really at the peak of our tennis right now,'' the 29-year-old Venus said, echoing what her parents were predicting when her hair was still in braids. "I think tennis has been a sport where people play this insane schedule from 14 years old, so of course at 26, it's over. We've really paced ourselves in order to play great tennis as long as we want and as long as we're healthy and obviously we still have the talent in our bodies. … It's working out well for us.''

The sisters have the key to yet another exclusive club as minority owners of the Miami Dolphins. "I don't think it really set in until we went to one of the owners' meetings at the Super Bowl and were like, 'OK, hey, we're in the door,''' Venus said.

But their off-court paths continue to diverge in interesting ways. "No TV, no acting for me,'' she said. "I'm kind of a more behind-the-scenes kind of woman even though what I do is very public. I'm really low-key and I don't need to be the center of attention.''

She's hosting, rather than hitting in, a high-firepower exhibition in Atlantic City, N.J., next month that features Ivan Lendl versus Mats Wilander in Lendl's first match of any kind since his retirement, along with appearances by Pete Sampras, Andy Roddick, Marat Safin and James Blake.

And rather than bare her own soul, as Serena did in an autobiography last year, Venus turned to USA Today's Kelly Carter to help her conduct and compile interviews with famous people about how sports shaped them. The resulting book, "Come to Win,'' will be released in June -- the same month Williams turns 30 -- and includes chats with former President Bill Clinton, ex-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Nike chief Phil Knight, designer Vera Wang and actor Denzel Washington. Serena didn't make the list. "She wants to know why she's not in it,'' Venus said, tongue-in-cheek. "I said, 'People know your story already.'"

The process put Venus on the other side of the microphone. She admitted it was daunting at times, making her feel "Like you guys,'' she said, looking at the reporters clustered around her. "Am I going to get in all the questions I need? I hope we can get through the material. Are they going to hang up after five minutes?"

Williams' willingness to keep learning, breaking up the tedium of tour play, may be the key factor in what has kept her in the game long enough to play opponents who are a decade younger. "I grew up with Venus,'' said Romania's Sorana Cirstea, who will play Williams for the first time. In some ways, watching the well-rounded, supremely grown-up Williams play kids now is more interesting than watching her beat older players when she was a kid herself.

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'I'm feeling alive again': Dancevic

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Canada's top player, who suffered from back problems, hasn't competed since August

Frank Dancevic hopped in his old Jeep and made the long drive from his hometown of Niagara Falls, Ont., to Montreal last week, the first step on a journey he hopes will resurrect a tennis career that once held so much promise, only to end up very much in jeopardy.

"I'm feeling alive. I'm alive again," Dancevic said. "I've been dead to the tennis world for six months."

The country's top male player, 25, hasn't competed since a first-round loss in the qualifying at the U.S. Open last August - the last straw in a year of pain caused by a nerve problem in his back.

He tried therapy for three months in an attempt to avoid surgery. It was unsuccessful. So Dancevic had a microdiscectomy performed Dec. 8, which shaved part of the disc that was hitting the nerve in his back and causing all the pain.

"Everything went through my head. It was so painful I thought

I wasn't going to play again. For months, I was thinking it was over," Dancevic said. "It's definitely one of those intermissions in my career,

I can say. You hear a lot of horror stories, about how after surgery it's never the same, that sort of thing. But when you have no choice, you have no choice."

After spending the last month strengthening his core, with Pilates and yoga to keep the area loose and flexible, he finally returned to the courts last week at the national training centre at Uniprix Stadium.

"Oh God, all I've been dreaming about is competing the last six months - especially lately, since I've been feeling better," he said. "When I was hurting, I always had it in my head. It was tough to get going, and every time I'd play, I'd play in pain."

Dancevic spent the week doing rehab, sweating in the gym and hitting tennis balls for about an hour a day. It went well - far beyond what anyone expected, given his six-month absence. He has decided to rent an apartment for a month and stay in Montreal, where there are training partners and fitness and physio facilities available.

The hope is he'll return for the clay-court season at the ATP Tour event in Belgrade, Serbia, at the beginning of May. Then would come a small Challenger event in Zagreb, Croatia, and the French Open qualifying.

He has to get going. Unlike many jobs, a tennis player's income is directly related to how many tennis matches he wins. Dancevic is a long way from Rafael Nadal territory; the Spanish star can miss a few months with injury, but then he'll sign a multimillion-dollar watch endorsement and end up even farther ahead.

"I'm looking forward to getting back and start making money again," Dancevic said. "It's tough when there are a lot of expenses - medical bills, therapists and that sort of thing - with no income coming in."

When he stopped, Dancevic's ranking was No. 104; it's currently at No. 153 and will fall even further after next week's event in Miami, where Dancevic qualified and reached the second round a year ago before losing to Novak Djokovic.

He gets a break with the ATP Tour's protected injury ranking system. For those purposes, he is at No. 119, and can enter a certain number of events based on that ranking.

All of that is a far cry from his best moments in 2007, when he upset Andy Roddick in Indianapolis, beat Fernando Verdasco (who has since gone on to the top 10) at the Rogers Cup in Montreal and took Nadal to three stirring sets before a delirious full house at Uniprix Stadium.

He was at No. 65 in the world and rising, and his smooth all-court game had some experts calling him the poor man's Roger Federer.

If you're going to be the "poor man's" anyone, it might as well be arguably the best player ever.

But his dedication always seemed in question. It sometimes seemed he'd rather be home fishing than out there grinding it out week after week. The talent, many thought, was being wasted.

Dancevic doesn't exactly deny it.

"Looking back, this is sort of a wakeup call. All the little things, maybe I could have avoided that. Not that this is why I got hurt, but thinking back," he said. "I'm going to change it going forward, doing all the little stuff right, not taking things for granted.

"I have a lot of years ahead of me, and you learn a lot from your accomplishments, what you've done wrong in the past, and move forward," he added. "As bad as it was that I got hurt, it could be a blessing in disguise. It let me reflect on my career and everything. I believe in fate, and everything's meant to be."

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Federer makes shock exit in California

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

World number one Roger Federer has crashed out of the Masters 1000 tournament at Indian Wells despite holding three match points against his Cypriot opponent Marcos Baghdatis.

The Tuesday night match in California proved a two hours 22 minutes classic with 27th-seeded Baghdatis trailing by a set and then saving the first two match points at 4-5 down in the second set on his own service.

The 24-year-old saved both and then broke the Swiss maestro in the next game before serving out for the second set.

Baghdatis, who reached the Australian Open final in 2008 losing to Novak Djokovic, also trailed 4-1 in the deciding set and after breaking back faced his third and final match point at 6-5, but Federer netted a backhand to see his chances disappear.

Baghdatis took advantage and secured a mini-break in the tiebreaker which he claimed 7-4 to wrap up a 5-7 7-5 7-6 victory to reach the last 16 of the prestigious $4.5 million hard court tournament.

"It was the best win of my career," Baghdatis told the official ATP Tour Web site. "I think that says everything. I cannot say I'm not happy."

Australian Open champion Federer, who had struggled to beat Romanian Victor Hanescu in his opening match after his layoff, said his lack of match practice had counted against him on the crucial points.

"It was a decent match, but maybe the wrong choices at the wrong time for me. That's not something you can really work on. That comes from playing matches and that's what I need."

With Federer out, the path on their side of the draw appears clear for Britain's Andy Murray, who eased past Michael Russell of the United States 6-3 7-5 in their third round match.

Fourth seed Murray was beaten by Federer in the final of the opening grand slam of the season in Melbourne.

Home hopes were boosted by an easy straight sets win for seventh seed Andy Roddick over Thiemo de Bakker of the Netherlands while in-form Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France was taken to three sets before beating Albert Montanes of Spain, 4-6 6-3 6-3.

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Welcome to Upset City for the Top-Tiered in Women's Tennis: Indian Wells

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Justine Henin goes down in straight sets in her second-round match! Top-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova loses her opening salvo! Feisty Chinese player Jie Zheng clobbers favored Maria Sharapova!

Kim Clijsters is sent packing by Alisa Kleybanova in a third-round thriller! Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez ousts No. 3 seed Victoria Azarenka!

It is like watching the air burst from a balloon, allowing the deflating latex to spiral around the room once in a final spurt of glory before coming to land limp and lifeless on the turf.

So goes the WTA’s top seeds as well as those “comeback” players expected to win at the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells.

To set the proper mood for this much-anticipated Masters Series event, Venus and top-ranked Serena Williams boycotted the tournament for the ninth consecutive year. Dinara Safina pulled out early with a persistent back injury. That propelled world No. 3 Svetlana Kuznetsova into the top spot as the No. 1 seed as action got under way.

 

Svetlana Kuznetsova’s Quarter

After earning a first-round bye, Kuznetsova met Carla Suarez Navarro in the second round—a match Kuznetsova lost, 6-4, 1-6, 6-2. The Russian was unable to fight back against the Spaniard, even after winning the second set in compelling fashion.

Kuznetsova lacked match fitness in facing Navarro who seemed much sharper and moved much better. Kuznetsova could not find the mental edge she needed as the No. 1 seed in this major tournament.

That should have opened things up for Clijsters in the upper half of the Kuznetsova quarter as the Belgian faced Russian Kleybanova in the third round. It was the Russian who edged Clijsters, however, at the finish line, 6-4, 1-6, 7-6, to advance. Now Navarro faces Kleybanova for a spot in the quarterfinals.

Sitting in the bottom half of this quarter is Jelena Jankovic, who hung on to defeat Sara Errani of Italy; now she must get through Shahar Peer to make it to the quarterfinal matchup. Peer has been playing fine tennis of late. This quarter is wide open!

 

Victoria Azarenka’s Quarter

Seeded No. 3 overall, Azarenka had a real shot at going deep, perhaps even winning at Indian Wells. But like so many seeds before her, Azarenka lost early to Martinez Sanchez during a third-round encounter.

Lurking in the wings, however, is another youngster, German Yanina Wickmayer, seeded No. 13 at Indian Wells. Wickmayer has shot up in the rankings since the U.S. Open and is on the rise.

In the bottom half of Azarenka’s quarter is the 2009 defending champion, Vera Zvonareva. The anticipated match from a year ago between Ana Ivanovic and Zvonareva will not happen because the floundering Serb Ivanovic was dismissed during her first match against Latvian Anastasia Sevastova.

Expect Zvonareva to take out Samantha Stosur and make it through to meet Wickmayer in the quarterfinal match.

 

Elena Dementieva’s Quarter

Justin Henin, the favorite of many to win this tournament, was sent packing in her second-round match against Gisela Dulko. This was a huge surprise and letdown for those assembled to watch the Belgian climb back up the rankings. But Dulko had Henin’s number during the match and gave nothing away to the Belgian who struggled to find her game over the course of the night.

Subsequently, Dulko fell to Agnieszka Radwanska. Seeded No. 5, Radwanska is another newcomer to watch carefully. She will meet Marion Bartoli in the fourth round.

But the player who was especially pleased to see Henin dismissed is Russian Elena Dementieva, who was dismissed prematurely from the Australian Open by Henin. Seeded No. 4 here, expect Dementievia to meet Radwanska in the quarterfinal match.

 

Caroline Wozniacki’s Quarter

The big disappointment for Maria Sharapova’s fans in this quarter was Jie Zheng’s dismissal of the Russian beauty in round three.

It happened in large measure because Sharapova’s errant serve caused innumerable double faults and unforced errors. The Russian continues to struggle with her wayward game since returning to the tour after shoulder surgery.

Zheng will next face wild-card entry Alicia Molik of Australia in the fourth round while Caroline Wozniacki will face veteran Nadia Petrova.

The Russian Petrova should prove to be Wozniacki’s biggest stumbling block in her quarter. Ultimately, expect Wozniacki to win that match and continue to the quarterfinals. The question is will the No. 2 seed hold on to play another day?

 

The results?

As the tour heads to the next big event in Miami, where Azarenka won her first big tournament last year, you have to wonder who will come out of Indian Wells with the advantage and the big ranking points.

Will the wily veteran and favorite Dementieva finally get a win here after making it to the semifinals in 2000 and 2005 and the finals in 2006, when she lost to Sharapova?

Or will the No. 2 seed, Wozniacki, who made it to the quarterfinals in 2009, losing to eventual champion Zvonareva, finally take this tournament title as her own?

Perhaps someone else will take the trophy, including the defending champion Zvonareva? Maybe it will mark a significant comeback for former world No. 1 Jelena Jankovic.

The only thing we know for certain is that seeds have been dropping like dead weights and there is no one who seems to be destined to win. Stay tuned...

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Novak Djokovic is happy to be No. 2

Thursday, March 11, 2010
Novak Djokovic is here at the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament and if that doesn't seem like a big deal, understand that the world's second-ranked player flew from Serbia Monday even though he left much of his heart and most of his energy in a raucous 20,000-seat arena in Belgrade.

If it didn't get much notice, Djokovic led Serbia to a first-round Davis Cup win over the United States last weekend. Besides his on court duties, Djokovic played congenial host, having the players from both teams to dinner at a Belgrade restaurant owned by himself, where the silverware had his name engraved on it.

And now Djokovic is the No. 2 seed in a draw that includes world No. 1 Roger Federer and the man many people still think of as No. 2, Rafael Nadal plus Australian Open finalist Andy Murray, who is the fourth seed.

For Djokovic, the accomplishment of being ranked behind only Federer is meaningful.

"It's a big achievement," he said. "Being No. 2 in the world, that is something I've been waiting for and I think I deserve it. I still feel I can go further of course. My lifetime goal is to be best in the world but I have quite some confidence now by being No. 2."

Djokovic became No. 2 on Feb. 1. He is still only 22 though he's already in his fifth year of playing the pro circuit. Djokovic won the Australian Open in 2008 and is a one-time runner up and two-time semifinalist at the U.S. Open.

He has a two-sided reputation in the United States, as both a good-natured clown who does spot-on impressions, especially of John McEnroe and Maria Sharapova, and as a thin-skinned complainer who took quick offense during the 2008 U.S. Open when Andy Roddick made a joking comment about Djokovic's perceived tendency to have injuries and illnesses.

When Roddick said it seemed Djokovic had suffered everything but "SARS and swine flu," Djokovic said to the Open crowd, "That's not nice, anyhow, to say in front of this crowd that I have 16 injuries and that I'm faking."

But last year Djokovic played along with McEnroe during ESPN's Open television coverage and earned back the goodwill of the New Yorkers.

Now he has a foot firmly planted in the United States. He is represented by the Los Angeles-based CAA agency. He's an early commit to the LA Open in August and his tennis goals are being groomed by his longtime coach Marian Vajda but also by former U.S. Davis Cup stalwart Todd Martin who has been urging Djokovic to make his tennis imitate his out-there personality.

"Novak has some significant aspirations," Martin said. "In order to accomplish those I think we've come to a quick conclusion that some offensive skills need to be infused into his game. He's so good at the counterpunching and defending and that's where he reverts to by nature.

."But to sustain the level of success he wants, he needs to become more offensive."

Djokovic agrees. He looks to Federer as the example of a man who has the perfect game. "He is a player who is able to have different varieties," Djokovic said. "He is most comfortable on the baseline but he is able to play serve-and-volley and that gives him a mental advantage over opponents. He has options to choose from. I'd like to be like that."

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This could be every tennis fan’s dream.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Imagine Bob Bryan playing with Venus Williams, against Andy Roddick and Serena Williams.

Or Mike Bryan playing with Melanie Oudin, against Rafael Nadal and a countrywoman from Spain.

Mixed doubles has been added to London 2012 Olympic Games, and the event could produce some interesting teams comprised of the world’s top players.

American Bob Bryan, who is part of the world’s No. 1 doubles team with his twin brother, Mike, is extremely excited about the possibility of playing in another Olympic Games.

“When I heard that mixed had been added, it put a big smile on my face,” said Bob, who along with Mike earned a bronze medal in the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. “I always thought about that. Why didn’t they have mixed in it from the start? I was hoping that would happen.

“It’s awesome to have more chances to win a medal. Michael Phelps has like 10 chances to win a medal. We get one, or two, depending on if you play singles and or doubles.”

The Bryan brothers and the Williams sisters, along with Roddick, have already started some friendly smack talk via their Twitter accounts about the possible mixed doubles teams.

“We’re all so excited—I want to play, Mike wants to play, Andy wants to play, we’re all going to battle to the death for the gold in London,” Bob said, adding a friendly laugh. “I think it’s going to be so great for the fans. They’re going to get to see all the stars of the game, playing on one court, for their countries, for a medal. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

The format has not been settled for the 16-team mixed doubles tournament, which will be held at the All England Club—better known as the grass court home of Wimbledon.

It is likely to follow the standard at Grand Slams: having the top singles and doubles players in the world, as determined by rankings, entered. A country such as the U.S. will be able to field more teams, as there will be more high-ranked players, such as Roddick and the Williams sisters, available to form mixed teams.

Players who are the lone representative of their country in the singles tournament will probably be out of luck in getting a partner for the mixed tournament.

Jeff Ryan, the United States Tennis Association’s senior director of team events, said there is wide-spread enthusiasm for mixed doubles being part of the Olympic Games.

“That’s a great testament to this, if the Bryans love it so much, because they love doubles,” Ryan said. “Whatever makes the players happy, makes us happy. It’s good for the sport. The Grand Slams all have mixed doubles. One can argue that Grand Slams are the pinnacles of our sport, so adding mixed to the Olympics brings it up there with the Slams now.

“Tennis welcomes the opportunity to be in the Olympics. It’s every four years, a tremendous opportunity to be on even greater stages.”

Mixed doubles, aside from the game, always brings a special form of drama: does the male player go after the female player? Those who submit to chivalry may find the female player making them eat fuzz.

But if a male player really goes to hit a woman with a blistering return…let’s just say fans and her partner won’t be happy.

It’s a complex dilemma, but Bob has figured out a solution.

“Oh, I never let up, because those girls can just whale on the ball and make you look silly if you’re not careful,” Bob said. “Where I do well is with my lefty serve. I just bomb it out wide, and I’ve had girls just tell me they were scared of it. They don’t often see power, or a lefty serve, like that on their tour, so it’s an advantage for me. I’m never going to on purpose go for hitting a girl, that’s not right. But I am not going to let up playing, I am there to win, and so is my partner.”

Bob and Venus Williams have played together before, finishing as the runners-up for the 2006 Wimbledon mixed title.

He thinks they can do one better in the Olympic Games.

“How cool would that be if we won the gold at Wimbledon, at the Olympics?” Bob said. “That would be unreal. I’m fired up right now thinking about that.”

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The tennis reign of Spain's Carlos Moya was short but memorable

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Moya, one of the sport's class acts, is attempting a comeback at Indian Wells, in the same tournament where he became No. 1 in the world in 1999. He stayed there only two weeks, but that was enough to last him a lifetime.

The tennis career of Carlos Moya will end with grace and dignity, reflecting the man himself.

That end may not come for a year or two. But he is 33, is six months from becoming a father for the first time, and is clearly in the twilight of a career that, for the better part of 15 years, was all sunshine.

He is in Indian Wells to play in the BNP Paribas Open this week and next, and it is the perfect place for him to begin the end.

"I love it here," he says. "The memories . . ."

It was 11 years ago in this tournament, March 15, 1999, that the Spaniard with movie-star looks and world-class game became the No. 1 men's player in the world. He won a semifinal against Gustavo Kuerten, and the points that came with that made him No. 1. Tournament organizers brought a cake onto the court, and the celebration began.

"I knew at the start of the tournament I had a chance," Moya says. "Four of us did. Me, Pete Sampras, Pat Rafter and Alex Corretja. They all lost their first match and I had a lot of pressure from then on. I knew if I got to the final, I would be No. 1."

He had never beaten Kuerten, a three-time French Open champion, and he remembers his battle with nerves in the last game.

"I was telling myself this was going to happen, if I can serve it out," he says. "Then there was just relief after match point."

He lost to Mark Philippoussis in the final but still had a chance to stay No. 1 for at least another month. All he had to do was beat Sebastien Grosjean in the round of 16 at the next tournament in Miami.

"I had two or three match points, but he won," Moya says.

Still, as it should be, his two-week reign at the top of men's tennis remains a huge source of pride. He was the first Spaniard to do it. Not 1975 U.S. Open champion Manual Orantes, not two-time French champion Sergi Bruguera, not two-time French finalist Corretja.

Moya says that many more players have won Grand Slam tournaments (he won the '98 French) and have helped win Davis Cups for their country (he won the title point by beating Andy Roddick and the United States in 2004), than have been No. 1.

And he's correct. Since the rankings began and Ilie Nastase became No. 1 on Aug. 23, 1973, only 24 men have held the top spot.

Right now, Moya's ranking is No. 639. He has played in four tournaments this year and won one match. He is in the main draw here because he asked for a wild card and was quickly granted one.

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