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The Friday Five: Agassi Should Not Be Left Off The Hook

By Maud Watson

The Agassi Admission – The big story this week was Andre Agassi’s shocking admission that he not only used crystal meth back in 1997, but that he lied to the ATP about it in order to avoid punishment.  While many are justly questioning the ATP’s actions, I think it’s wrong how many are praising Agassi for his honesty and easily letting him off the hook.  First, it doesn’t matter that it was a recreational drug vs. a performance-enhancing drug, and if there’s any doubt, see the examples of Martina Hingis and Richard Gasquet.  Second, the timing of Agassi’s announcement leaves much to be desired. Over the last two years, tennis has been rocked by gambling and drug scandals. Agassi has kept quiet for 12 years. Why he couldn’t wait until things had settled down more before making his admission is beyond me…but oh that’s right. He has a new book coming out, and making such an admission is a great way to drum up publicity to increase book sales. Maybe if Agassi had confessed during his “second career,” at a time when he still could have been given a meaningful punishment for his actions and given the ATP a chance to redeem themselves for their prior actions, I might not be questioning the sincerity of his confession now. In closing, I think it’s wrong that Agassi got away with crystal meth use in 1997, but it’s even more wrong that he can profit from it now while the ATP is left holding the bag. Hopefully the ATP will use this as an incentive to do what they should have done 12 years ago and punish Agassi, irrespective of his star power.(Watch the Agassi video on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/mpd/permalink/m28SCG9B8T1990 )

Do You Believe in Magic? – It looks like Frenchman Fabrice Santoro does. The player affectionately known as “the magician,” has admitted that he is now considering the possibility of competing in the 2010 Australian Open. The reason for his potential change of heart came when a reporter informed him that by competing in Melbourne, Santoro would become the first player to compete in a Grand Slam tournament across four decades. Now that’s some feat!

The British are Coming! – Taking a page out of the books of Novak Djokovic and Marat Safin, both of whom played the Hopman Cup before winning the Australian Open, Andy Murray has announced that he will also be making the trip to Perth to use the event as his Australian Open tune-up. He’ll be partnering with junior sensation Laura Robson, who will be looking to use the event as a chance to test her game against some of the WTA’s best. It’s a golden opportunity for both, and it’s a positive sign for British tennis that it can now field a team at this mixed event.

A Downward Spiral – After pulling out the WTA Tour Championships, it was revealed that the severity of Dinara Safina’s injury may force her to miss the Australian Open. This is just salt in the wound for a player who has helplessly watched the wheels fall off her game ever since Wimbledon. I personally feel for Safina who appears to have cracked under the unjust pressure put upon her by the critics claiming she never deserved the No. 1 ranking due to her lack of a major title. It doesn’t seem right that a player can support the tour by consistently playing the big tournaments and then be criticized for reaping the points she justly earned. Fingers crossed she can put all of this negativity behind her, get healthy, and start fresh in 2010.

Serena Wins the War – All year long there have been many battles for the No. 1 ranking, and in the end, it is Serena Williams who will take the top honor for 2009.  The deal was sealed Wednesday at the WTA Tour Championships when Dinara Safina was forced to retire from her opening match and withdraw from the tournament with a back injury. The No. 1 ranking is the icing on the cake for Serena who also added another two majors to her storybook career.

It’s Official: Justine Henin Makes Comeback To The WTA Tour

Former world No. 1 Justine Henin is returning to competitive tennis, making the announcement barely a week after Kim Clijsters capped her comeback from retirement with a second U.S. Open title.

Henin had been retired for just over a year, but at 27 says she has the fire and physical strength to compete for an eighth Grand Slam title. Her announcement on VTM television capped an about-face that went from her “definitive decision” to retire last year, to weeks of no comment to a smiling admission Tuesday that she truly missed the game too much.

She wants to play two exhibition tournaments, in Charleroi, Belgium, and Dubai, to hone her skills ahead of a competitive return next year with plans to compete in the next Grand Slam, the Australian Open.

“The fire within burns again,” Henin said. “I want to come back in January.”

Henin officially retired on May 14, 2008, initially rejecting any thought of a comeback with a dogged determination that had come to mark her play throughout a decade-long career that yielded seven Grand Slam titles and one Olympic gold medal.

At 27, it certainly is not too late for a comeback. As Clijsters proved, breaking back into the top tier at short notice is far from impossible. She won the U.S. Open in her third tournament since announcing her return.

“Subconsciously, it might have had an impact,” Henin said of Clijster’s successful comeback. “But it certainly was not the most important reason.”

Like Clijsters, Henin is still in her prime and has been able to rest her body for over a year. Throughout her retirement, during which she became a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, Henin looked fit enough to immediately step back onto a court.

As recently as May, she complained about the old injuries that still gave her pain in the mornings and the dreaded life of living in a bubble as she was shuttled around the world chasing victories.

“The last 15 months I’ve been able to recharge the batteries, emotionally as well,” Henin said.

Henin said coming face to face with the world’s misery on UNICEF trips to places like eastern Congo widened her horizons like tennis never could.

Henin has won nearly $20 million in prize money and had been ranked No. 1 for all but seven weeks since Nov. 13, 2006, until her retirement. When she retired after a string of early tournament exits just ahead of Roland Garros, she felt the fire no longer within and gave in.

It was the first time in a life totally centered around her prodigious talent for whipping backhands past hapless competitors. She became the first woman player to retire as No. 1.

Then, suddenly, this summer the craving came back.