Olympic Gold Medal

Kim Clijsters to focus on Olympics; John Isner new number one American — The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

London or Bust

To the dismay of her legion of fans and the WTA in general, Kim Clijsters announced that she will be unable to make one last run at Roland Garros. The Belgian is suffering from ankle and hip injuries and is healing much slower than anticipated. She is wisely opting to focus all of her efforts on the upcoming grass court season, which she hopes will include a victory at Wimbledon, the Olympics, or both. In reality, such a scenario is looking less and less likely. The competition near the uppermost echelons of the game has made it harder to be a part-time competitor, and given Clijsters’ slow recovery and seemingly continual string of injuries, it’s difficult to imagine her being at the top of her game when she needs it most. She’s a great person, and I’d love to see a fairytale ending to her career, but count me among those who will be sincerely shocked if she not only wins one of the biggest grass court titles of 2012, but actually finishes the season.

Joining the Club and a Snub

The lineup for the 2012 Hall of Fame class has been set, and not surprisingly, it includes Jennifer Capriati. The American’s career follows a very similar arc to that of 2011 Inductee Andre Agassi. She was a standout teen prodigy who crumbled under the pressure in a very public fall from grace, only to pick herself up and ultimately realize her Grand Slam potential more than a decade after turning pro. Her career also impacted the sport as a whole, with her early burnout cited as one of the main reasons the WTA put restrictions on its youngest competitors, while the controversial overrule in her match with Serena Williams at the 2004 US Open is considered the catalyst for introducing Hawk-Eye to the game. With three singles majors, an Olympic gold medal, and the No. 1 ranking, she’s a deserving candidate. Also a deserving candidate but who was instead snubbed for induction is Yevgeny Kafelnikov. The Russian won two singles majors, four in doubles, reached the apex of the men’s rankings, won Olympic gold, and was a member of a winning Davis Cup team. His record is equally, if not arguably more impressive, than Capriati’s, and he’s certainly a more accomplished player than some previous inductees. Some have suggested he failed to make the grade in spite of his Hall of Fame résumé because of his often sour disposition. In an ideal world, induction would be based on pure merit and not popularity, but that’s politics. And while it doesn’t’ make it right, I guess bottom line, Capriati, not Kafelnikov, puts butts in seats.

Touching Tribute

Novak Djokovic has proven his mental toughness on multiple occasions the last 12-18 months, but perhaps one of the more stunning displays of his resolve occurred in his victory over Alexandr Dolgopolov to reach the quarters in Monte-Carlo. On the morning he was to play that match, he learned that his grandfather, Vladimir, had passed away at the age of 83. Vladimir was a hero to his grandson and the man Djokovic credited with teaching him to always fight. With that in mind, he couldn’t have put together a more fitting tribute to his grandfather on the day of his passing, overcoming the Ukranian in a topsy-turvy three-set tussle. In the first set, Djokovic was clearly suffering mentally, as he swung without any real purpose and Dolgopolov’s talent was on full display. But the No. 1 roared back in the second to force a tightly contested third set that ended when Djokovic broke his opponent in the ninth game before serving it out for the win. He raised his arms and eyes to the heavens in recognition of his hero before wiping away a few tears and undoubtedly causing more than a few spectators to grow misty-eyed themselves. He’s never won Monte-Carlo, so you can bet he was plenty motivated coming into his adopted hometown event. But now there’s extra motivation, because this one is for grandpa.

New No. 1

No, nobody has knocked Djokovic from his perch atop the world rankings, but John Isner did displace Mardy Fish as the top American, becoming the 12th man to hold the coveted spot in the process. It would have been nice to have seen him punctuate the achievement with the title in Houston, but you have to give credit to his vanquisher Juan Monaco, who before having to retire in his match with Haase in Monte-Carlo was playing some very stellar tennis. Isner has coped relatively well with the expectations that were suddenly heaped on his shoulders following his surprise defeat of Federer in Davis Cup, so it will be interesting to see if he continues the trend now that he’s the U.S. No. 1. It will also be interesting to track if the flip-flop in rankings takes some of the pressure off of Fish and allows him to relax and return to playing top-notch tennis instead of continuing his downward spiral. Either way, it could make for an intriguing spring and summer.

Ultimate Professional

It’s wasn’t a long swan song for Ivan Ljubicic as he entered the final tournament of his professional career in Monte-Carlo earlier this week. Perhaps fittingly, he went out to a fellow Croat, Ivan Dodig, in a straight sets defeat where he admitted he was surprised by the well emotions swirling inside of him. His story of an escape from war-torn Croatia and eventual rise to top tennis star is an inspiring one to be sure, and his dedication to his off-court endeavors is admirable. Always ready with an endearing smile, it was touching to hear his fellow competitors gave him a standing-o when he entered the locker room after that last defeat. He has and continues to be a class act, and I for one can’t wait to see what else he’s going to be able to do for the game.

‘Rafa Slam’ Dream Over, Agassi in Hall of Fame and new Women’s Record

‘Rafa Slam’ in Tatters:

World No. 1 Rafael Nadal saw his chances of lifting his fourth straight Grand Slam crushed as his left hamstring and a ferocious David Ferrer combined to end the 24-year-old’s dreams at the quarterfinal stage of the Australian Open. It almost echoed the scenes from last year’s Championships where Nadal retired at the same stage whilst trailing Andy Murray due to a damaged knee. “This is a difficult day for me,” said Nadal post-match. “For respect to the winner and to a friend, I prefer to talk about the match. Today I can’t do more than what I did; he played at a very high level. I don’t have to tell you what I felt on the court, but it is obvious I did not feel at my best. I had a problem with the match at the very beginning and after that, the match was almost over.” The 28-year-old Ferrer, who did exceptionally well to concentrate among all the drama, added: “This is one big victory for me, but it’s not like a victory really. He was playing with injury and I had luck. But I played my game.”

Agassi to Join International Tennis Hall of Fame:

The International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island, has announced that Andre Agassi will be inducted in the ‘Recent Player’ category for 2011. The announcement was made at his Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy in Las Vegas. The 40-year-old is one of the most well-liked athletes in world sport and held the No. 1 ranking in tennis for 101 weeks. He won 60 career titles including four Australian Opens and two French Opens as well as one French Open and one Wimbledon title. He won a then record of 17 ATP Masters Events (now Rafa Nadal has 18) and also won the year-ending Championships in 1990. He has two Davis Cup wins to his name as well as an Olympic Gold medal from Atlanta. He is a true American legend and a passionate, if at times enigmatic, ambassador for tennis, and his wife is former tennis star and 2004 Hall of Fame inductee Steffi Graf. “During his 20-year career Andre Agassi recorded some of the most incredible achievements in tennis,” said Hall of Fame Chairman Christopher Clouser. “The energy and excitement that he personally brought to the game inspired generations of players. Today, he continues to inspire people around the world as a dedicated philanthropist, and, therefore, it was only appropriate that we share this news at the school where so many young people benefit from his generosity. Andre is a true champion of the game, and we are delighted to honour him for his contributions and achievements with induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.” Agassi was understandably delighted with the accolade: “I’m truly honoured to be recognized alongside the greatest players of tennis,” he said. “My tennis career afforded me the opportunity to make a difference in other people’s lives and it was truly special to share this exciting moment with the students of Agassi Prep.” Further inductees will be named at a later date.

Schiavone wins marathon tie:

Italian Francesca Schiavone overcame the Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-4, 1-6, 16-14 in the longest ever women’s match at a Grand Slam. The mammoth encounter lasted four hours and 44 minutes which beat the previous record of four hours and 19 minutes set by Barbora Zahlavova Strycova and Regina Kulikova at Melbourne Park last year. “It is a fantastic moment for me,” said sixth seed Schiavone of her round of 16 victory. “It is one of the most emotional moments of my life. I just told myself to keep going, do it with the heart and go for it. When you’re in a situation like this, every point is like a match point. You have to keep going. You know that physically you’re tired. Mentally just keep going.” Two-time Aussie Open quarterfinalist Kuznetsova said that it got to the point where she didn’t know what the score was anymore or who was meant to be serving.

Wozniacki Lies to Hopping Mad Journalists:

World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki was forced to apologise to journalists after lying about how she obtained a large scratch on her shin following her fourth round victory over Anastasija Sevastova. She told journalists that a baby kangaroo had lashed out at her while walking through a park rather than that she had slipped on her treadmill because “the story sounded better.” Several news organisations then led with the story. “I’m sorry,” the 20-year-old told reporters, including Bloomberg. “I really didn’t mean to. I promise if I make a joke like this, I’ll make sure to clarify it before I leave. I didn’t think that it was going to spin this way. I heard that to get the story pulled back again was quite a bit of work. So I just thought I would come back and apologize.” This came three days after the Dane had rattled off a series of elaborate answers to what she called “predictable questions” when she heard that some journalists found her media appearances boring. The full kangaroo transcript can be read on The Ticker at Tennis.com.

Dolgopolov At Home with the Stars:

He may have been bettered by world No. 5 Andy Murray in his first Grand Slam quarterfinal but nothing should be forgotten about Alexander Dolgopolov’s mesmerising five set thriller with the Swedish star Robin Soderling in the previous round. The match lasted only two hours and 46 minutes despite going the distance and Dolgopolov was understandably delighted with his performance. “The first set I was struggling, and a break down in the second,” he said after the match. “I came back somehow and started to play better and better with every set. I’m really happy I’m through to the quarter-final. But [it] is going to be like a completely different match. I need to forget about this match and go into the next round. I mean, it’s a good run, and you can make it even better.” The Ukrainian, who says his ambition is to be world No. 1, also revealed an interesting upbringing that has helped ground him on the professional circuit. His father, Oleksandr, is a former pro who has also coached the French Open finalist Andrei Medvedev. Whilst travelling around with his dad he often mixed with the pros and regularly mixed with the likes of Thomas Muster and Marc Rosset. “I met pretty much all the players,” he recalled. “When there’s a kid on tour, all the players try to play with him. I had a nice time.”

Multi-Lingual Federer in it for the Long Haul:

Roger Federer is well known as an accommodating star that always has time for talking to the media. Just as well really, for the 16-time Grand Slam Champion has to participate in press conferences to accommodate journalists fluent in only one of the four languages he speaks. That means when he is finished in English he has to repeat the same press conference again in Swiss, German and then French. Federer joked after his victory over compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka: “Sometimes I wish I never told anybody I learned French.” He then added that he was proud to have learnt another language which lets him connect to different people. He said it’s all part of “what I have to do in the tennis world.” He went on to say: “…it comes at a cost, sure, but I don’t mind it. I try to have fun with it. I have almost, I don’t want to say characters, but I have different humour in all the different languages, which is kind of fun for me, too. Getting to know myself through different languages is actually quite interesting for me.”

Clijsters Ticks Off Woodbridge:

It was all in jest but there was no denying the uncomfortable stance of Aussie legend Todd Woodbridge as Kim Clijsters’ chided the former doubles star on-court for texting a fellow pro stating he believed her to be pregnant with child number two. For the full extent of Todd’s embarrassment, check out the video over at the Los Angeles Times website.

Nole Need for Warning:

Novak Djokovic says he didn’t deserve the coaching violation he received during his fourth round victory over Nicolas Almagro as he believes it was just a knee-jerk reaction from his frustrated coach over a missed forehand. “I missed a forehand and then I turn to my coach—you always make as a player an eye contact with your team,” Djokovic told ESPN. “There was not any intention of me asking for advice from my coach. Okay, maybe he did show me some signals of how I should hit my forehand—it was more out of frustration. Maybe the umpire was right to give me a code violation for that but I think it was wrong because he should have told me, he should have given me a pre-warning…’Listen, your coach is giving you signals that he shouldn’t do, it’s against the rules.’ I would say, ‘Yeah, sure, next time he does it you give me a warning. But not right away, it wasn’t the right time.”

Zvonereva Blocks Out Home Troubles:

It may have seemed a million miles away from sunny Melbourne but the suspected suicide bombing at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport last weekend would undoubtedly been a cause of concern for the Russian stars competing at the Aussie Open. No. 2 seed Vera Zvonereva sported a black ribbon in memory of those killed in the attacks during her quarterfinal victory over Petra Kvitova and was asked how she was coping.  “You’re calling back home and making sure everyone is okay, the people that you know. You know, I just tried to put it away. It happened. It is terrible. But, you know, you try to move on.”

Another Record for R-Fed:

The 2011 Aussie Open has seen Roger Federer draw level with Jimmy Connors’ record of reaching 27-straight Grand Slam quaterfinals. The 16-time Grand Slam Champion will probably not have very high odds on him making that record his own, injury permitting, at Roland Garros later this year.

Playing Through the Pain:

Spaniard Fernando Verdasco has announced that he played his entire Aussie Open campaign with a fractured bone in his ankle. He said he plans to speak to his doctor about whether: “…to keep playing or stop to take time off for the bone.” He also said that surgery is “the last option.”

New Direction for Dinara:

Fallen Russian star Dinara Safina has parted with her coach Gaston Etlis following her humiliation at the hands of Kim Clijsters in Melbourne. “[F]ollowing the Australian Open, my coach and I mutually decided to part ways,” the 24-year-old wrote on her official website. “I will keep you posted when I decide on a new coach.”

King for a Day:

Vania King has been named as Venus Williams’ replacement for the USA’s upcoming Fed Cup quarterfinal against Belgium. Captain Mary Jo Fernandez has named King, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Melanie Oudin and Liezel Huber as her team.

Acasuso Is In:

Organisers of the Copa Claro have announced that the Argentine Jose Acasuso has received the first wildcard in to the tournament to be held at the Buenos Aires Lawn Tennis Club between February 12-20. The 28-year-old is a two-time finalist having lost to Gustavo Kuertan in 2001 and David Nalbandian in 2008. It will be his first tournament in a year having been suffering with a left knee injury since the 2010 Movistar Open in Chile.

Is Venus A Fading Star?:

Stephanie Myles of Postmedia News has written a very interesting article about whether Venus still has the dominating presence she so-thrived on for much of her career when she dominated the sport with younger sister Serena. While Serena is still a vastly feared opponent Venus’ increasingly injury-threatened calendar has seen her play less and less over recent years, having not played at all since September before the Open. It can be viewed over at the Montreal Gazette website. Alternatively, head over to the Fox Sports site for Matt Cronin’s view on the subject.

Rafa Limps on in GOAT Race:

It was such a sad sight to see Rafa Nadal struggling to play against compatriot David Ferrer in Melbourne. And falling at the quarterfinal stage means he gains himself only 50 points in the race between him and Roger Federer to see who has the better year. With R-Fed still going in the semis he is yet to score and is all set to move further ahead of his rival in next week’s column.

Roger: 230 Rafa: 130

Justine Henin Retires: Sound Familiar, Right?

Tennis is a sport for insomniacs. It’s played nearly all year and at all hours, so if you so much as blink, or in most cases take a nap, you might miss something monumentally important. Lately, I seem to have slept through some of the most shocking moments in tennis and last night was no different. When I finally got around to checking twitter, I had to ask myself whether this was 2011 or 2008. The very first tweet that I saw was from @WTATour saying, “Seven-time Grand Slam champion @Justine_Henin has announced her retirement from professional tennis. You’ll be missed Justine!”

In case you’ve been living in a hole, I’ll explain. Between 2003 and 2007, Justine Henin won seven Grand Slam titles, including 4 French Opens, 2 US Opens, and 1 Australian Open, as well as an Olympic gold medal and 2 WTA Championships. Going into the 2008 season, Henin was celebrating one year as the No. 1 player in the world. She appeared to have a near lock on the title at Roland Garros and was generally pegged as the favorite for that year’s tournament. Then, just one week before the start of the clay court major, Henin called a press conference and announced her retirement from tennis. This was truly shocking. It’s not often that the No. 1 player in the world, at the age of 25, opts to call it quits, particularly the week before her favorite Slam. Actually, Henin was the only woman to retire while still ranking No. 1.

At the time of her first retirement, she stated, “I am leaving as the world No. 1 and that is important as it is always better to go out at the top, I leave without any regrets and I know it is the right decision.” Clearly, she had regrets because at the end of the 2009 season, she announced her return to tennis in 2010. She was motivated by the idea of finally winning Wimbledon and achieving a career Grand Slam, as Roger Federer had done in 2009. She intended to continue playing through the 2012 Olypmics.

Justine’s comeback seemed almost as good as Kim Clijsters’ when she reached the final at the Australian Open, only her second tournament back on tour. She seemed well on track to finally attain the illusive career Grand Slam at Wimbledon. But things came to a crashing halt when she injured her elbow after falling in her 4th round match against compatriot Kim Clijsters. The injury was grave and cost Henin the rest of the season, but there was little doubt that she would return to the tour healthy and get back to her winning ways. Henin warned the world that she came to Australia not 100%, but ready to compete. Unfortunately, her Australian Open ended early when she lost to Svetlana Kuznetsova in the 3rd round.

Somehow Justine managed to shock us all over again this morning, by announcing her retirement from professional tennis, again. This time, there will be no coming back. Justine released a letter to her fans saying, “After having well considered and following the advice of doctors, it is now clear and I accept that my career here … … finally ends. Even though it’s hard, very hard, while I came back with a tremendous fighting spirit. I’m sorry … I had hoped for a different return and dreamed of a different ending. I will need time to process all this, but I remain convinced that even with little progress, my level with my return did not meet my expectations, despite everything I’ve learned a lot over the past 15 months.”

Whether you’re a fan or not, Justine is a great champion and has contributed a great deal to this sport. It’s a real shame that resurgence was cut short because of an injury. I offer the best of luck to Justine in her future endeavors.

Happy Anniversary to Andre and Steffi!

October 22 marks the eight-year anniversary of Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf, the most celebrated couple in the history of tennis. Their anniversary, and other events in the history of tennis, are chronicled in the October 22 chapter excerpt for the book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.TennisHistoryBook.com) featured below…

2001 – Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf, two the greatest champions tennis has ever produced, are married in a small, private ceremony in Las Vegas, Nevada. The two all-time greats date for more than two years since both won the singles titles at the 1999 French Open. “We are so blessed to be married and starting this chapter of our lives,” Agassi and Graf says in a joint statement after the ceremony. “The privacy and intimacy of our ceremony was beautiful and reflective of all we value.” Agassi and Graf are the only two players in the history of the sport to win all four major singles titles – and an Olympic gold medal – in their careers.

1985 – Arthur Ashe resigns as captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team after a tenure of five years. Ashe resigns “”in the best interests of me personally and of the team,” according to a statement released by Ashe’s agency, ProServ. The United States wins the Davis Cup during Ashe’s first two years as captain in 1981 and 1982, but the U.S. loses in the first round in 1983 and the second round in 1985. Ashe’s overall record as U.S. Davis Cup captain concludes at 13-3.

1982 – Vitas Gerulaitis defeats Gene Mayer 7-5, 6-2 in the semifinals of the Mazda Super Challenge in Melbourne, Australia and then blasts the officiating as the worst he has seen in his career. Says Gerulaitis, “From Egypt to Zambia, it has never been as bad as this. This is the worst place I have ever played.”

1995 – Wayne Ferreira of South Africa ends the three-year reign of Pete Sampras as champion of the Lyon Open in France, defeating Sampras 7-6 (2), 5-7, 6-3 in the final. Says Ferreira, “I played one of the best matches I could play. I tired a little at the end but I wasn’t going to get tight.” Ferreira has surprising success with Sampras during his career, winning six of 13 matches against the seven-time Wimbledon champion.

1995 – Filip Dewulf became the first Belgian in two decades to win an ATP Tour singles title, defeating Austria’s Thomas Muster  7-5, 6-2, 1-6, 7-5 in the CA Trophy in Vienna, Austria. Dewulf is the first Belgian to win an ATP title since Bernard Mignot wins the title in Dusseldorf  in 1974.

1995 – Mary Joe Fernandez celebrates her 24th birthday by defeating South Africa’s Amanda Coetzer 6-4, 7-5 to win the Brighton in England. The title is the fifth of seven career WTA Tour singles titles for Fernandez.

2006 – Maria Sharapova becomes the first Russian to win the Zurich Open, defeating Daniela Hantuchova 6-1, 4-6, 6-3  in the final. Both players takes advantage of the WTA Tour’s controversial experimental on-court coaching rule, allowing on-court coaching between sets. Sharapova speaks on-court to her coach Michael Joyce, while Hantuchova talked with her mother.

2006 – Roger Federer defeats Fernando Gonzalez of Chile 7-5, 6-1, 6-0 to win the Madrid Masters singles title. The title is his 10th of the 2006 season, giving Federer the distinction of becoming the first player in the Open era to win 10 or more titles in a season for three consecutive seasons. Federer finishes the season with 12 titles – to go with the 11 titles he wins in both 2004 and 2005.

1995 – Michael Chang defeats Italy’s Renzo Furlan 7-5, 6-3 and delights fans in Beijing by speaking to them in Chinese after winning the Salem Open for a third year in the row.

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.

Henin Official Comeback Announcement Expected Soon

Former world No. 1 Justine Henin is expected to officially announce her comeback very soon. Belgian TV station RTBF is reporting that a press conference is expected in the next few days. Belgian newspaper De Standaard is reporting that Henin has recently ordered 14 new tennis racquets fit to her competitive requirements. Henin’s staff and representatives have been silent and have not commented on her comeback status. The four-time French Open champion, who decided to retire from tennis 16 months ago, will play two exhibition matches in Charleroi, Belgium and Dubai at the end of 2009.

Henin was signed on to appear in theaters with a play called “Arrête de pleurer Pénélope!” between October 24 and December 20, but canceled last August. Her cancellation fed rumors that she is working behind the scenes to make a return to the tennis courts, like fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters, who won the US Open on Sunday.

Justine Henin won seven Grand Slam tournaments in her career and won the 2004 Olympic gold medal in women’s singles.

Clijsters has said in Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf that she would welcome Henin’s comeback. The 2009 winner of the US Open said that she isn’t afraid of Henin making a comeback and would welcome her back to the tour.

Field of Tennis Greats to join Andre Agassi in Surprise, Ariz.

NEW YORK, May 18, 2009 – InsideOut Sports & Entertainment announced today the full field of players who will join Andre Agassi at the 2009 Cancer Treatment Centers of America Tennis Championships in Surprise, Ariz., to be played Oct. 8-11. Completing the eight-player field will be Hall of Famers Jim Courier and Mats Wilander, 2003 Wimbledon finalist Mark Philippoussis, 1992 Olympic silver medalist Wayne Ferreira, 1986 French Open finalist Mikael Pernfors and former U.S. Davis Cup standouts Aaron Krickstein and Jimmy Arias.

Tickets for the event, which will mark the Outback Champions Series tournament debut for Agassi, are on sale starting today and can be purchased at Ticketmaster, by calling 800.745.3000, on site at the Surprise Tennis and Racquet Complex or by visiting www.ChampionsSeriesTennis.com. The Cancer Treatment Centers of America Tennis Championships is one of eight events on the 2009 Outback Champions Series, the global tennis circuit for champion tennis players age 30 and over. The tournament will be an eight-player, single-knock-out event with the winner earning $60,000.

During his 21-year ATP career, Agassi won 61 career singles titles, including two U.S. Open titles (1994, 1999), four Australian Open titles (1995, 2000, 2001, 2003), Wimbledon in 1992 and the French Open in 1999. He also won the Olympic Gold Medal in men’s singles in 1996 and helped the U.S. to victories in the Davis Cup in 1990, 1992 and 1995. Wilander, Philippoussis, Pernfors and Krickstein will all be making their first appearances in Surprise, while Courier, Ferreira and Arias will be competing in the event for the second straight year. At last year’s debut event in Surprise, John McEnroe won the singles title, defeating Todd Martin 3-6, 7-6 (3), (11-9 Champions Tie-Breaker) in the title match.

Pete Sampras won the opening event on the 2009 Outback Champions Series, defeating McEnroe in the final of the Champions Cup Boston in February. McEnroe won the second event of the year in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, defeating Courier in the final. Sampras won his second title of the year at the Del Mar Development Champions Cup in Los Cabos, Mexico, defeating Patrick Rafter in the final. Courier won his first title of the 2009 season in April at the Cayman Islands, defeating Arias in the final. Newport, R.I. (August 20-23), Charlotte (Sept. 24-27) and Dubai, U.A.E. (Nov. 18-21) will also host Outback Champions Series events later this year.

Courier leads the current Stanford Champions Rankings on the Outback Champions Series with 2000 points, followed by Sampras with 1600 points and McEnroe with 1300 points. Arias sits at a career-high No. 4 Outback Champions Series ranking with 1050 points, followed by Pat Cash with 700 points at No. 5 and Philippoussis at No. 6 with 600 points. Wilander, Pernfors and Rafter are tied at No. 7 with 500 points, while Martin rounds out the top 10 with 400 points.

Founded in 2005, the Outback Champions Series features some of the biggest names in tennis over the last 25 years, including Agassi, Sampras, McEnroe, Courier and others. To be eligible to compete on the Outback Champions Series, players must have reached at least a major singles final, been ranked in the top five in the world or played singles on a championship Davis Cup team. The Outback Champions Series features eight events on its 2009 schedule with each event featuring $150,000 in prize money as well as Champions Series points that will determine the year-end Stanford Champions Rankings No. 1.

InsideOut Sports + Entertainment is a New York City-based independent producer of proprietary events and promotions founded in 2004 by former world No. 1 and Hall of Fame tennis player Jim Courier and former SFX and Clear Channel executive Jon Venison. In 2005, InsideOut launched its signature property, the Outback Champions Series, a collection of tennis events featuring the greatest names in tennis over the age of 30. In addition, InsideOut produces many other successful events including “Legendary Night” exhibitions, charity events and tennis fantasy camps such as the annual “Ultimate Fantasy Camp”. Through 2008, InsideOut Sports + Entertainment events have raised over $4 million for charity. For more information, please log on to www.InsideOutSE.com or www.ChampionsSeriesTennis.com.

Henin Retires From Sony Ericsson WTA Tour

ST. PETERSBURG, FL, USA – Tributes are flowing in from around the world for Justine Henin, who on Wednesday announced her immediate retirement from the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. The 25-year-old Belgian became the first woman in the history of professional tennis to retire from the sport while ranked No.1 in the world.

Henin, winner of 41 Sony Ericsson WTA Tour singles titles – including seven Grand Slam championships – is currently in her 117th week as the world No.1, sixth on the all-time list. She has amassed $19,461,375 in career prize money and compiled a 493-107 win-loss record in singles. But more importantly than any statistics, the 5-foot, 5 3/4-inch (1.67 m) Henin was renowned for her spectacular backhand, incredible athleticism and unrivalled mental fortitude and work ethic.

“Justine Henin will be remembered as one of the all-time great champions in women’s tennis, and a woman who made up for her lack of size with a will to win and fighting spirit that was second to none,” said Larry Scott, the Chairman & CEO of the Tour. “It is rare that an athlete leaves at the very top of her game in this day and age, but Justine has always played by her own rules, in the very best sense of those words. History will remember Justine for not only her seven Grand Slam titles and three years finishing as the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour’s No.1, but for one of the most graceful backhands the sport has ever seen and an ability to overcome any and all obstacles placed in her way on and off the court.”

“Pound for pound Justine is the greatest player of her generation,” said Tour Founder and tennis legend Billie Jean King. “I trust she has not come to this decision quickly or easily and I wish her the very best. Justine is an extraordinary player and a special person and a true champion both in tennis and in life.”

Added Scott: “This is a sad day for our sport and for her millions of fans around the world, but I know that I speak for so many in wishing Justine the very best in her future endeavors and hope that she will stay connected to the sport to which she gave so much.”

Among her many accomplishments, Henin achieved the following:

  • Finished three seasons ranked No.1 in the world (2003, 2006, 2007);
  • Won her seventh and final Grand Slam singles title at the 2007 US open, beating both Serena and Venus Williams en route, the only player ever to beat both Williams sisters at a Grand Slam and going on to win the title;
  • In 2007 she had her most successful season ever, winning 10 titles (including two majors) and becoming the first female athlete to pass the $5-million mark in a season;
  • Was of the most successful players of all time on clay, winning Roland Garros four times in five years (2003, 2005, 2006, 2007);
  • Won every major title except Wimbledon, taking the Australian, French and US Opens at least once, along with two season-ending Sony Ericsson Championships (2006, 2007) and an Olympic gold medal (singles) in Athens in 2004; she also led Belgium to its first Fed Cup title in 2001.

Henin is the first current world No.1 to retire from professional tennis, and only the fifth Top 5 retiree, after Margaret Court in 1977 (No.5), Chris Evert in 1989 (No.4), Steffi Graf in 1999 (No.3), and fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters in 2007 (No.4).

Random Ramblings…Aussie Open dates, Wimbledon, Vegas, etc.

Imagine that the tennis world was focused not on Indian Wells and Key Biscayne but on the Australian Open at this time of year. Is this a novel concept? Not really. This was the case during this time frame in 1971 when the Australian Open was played at White City in Sydney, Australia. As documented in the upcoming book On This Day In Tennis History, it was on March 15, 1971 when Ken Rosewall and Margaret Court both won Australian Open singles titles during this uniquely scheduled major. Many people would love to have the tennis schedule altered so the players have more of an off season – and a February/March staging of the Australian Open would be a great way for that to happen – but Tennis Australia officials are too wed to the Australia Day holiday season and the end of the Australian summer season to move the tournament dates to later in the year. It could be worse, however, as the Australian Open used to be held during the Christmas holidays.

During a recent visit to London, I stopped by the All England Club and saw the place in full preparation for the 2008 Championships. Cranes stand next to Centre Court as the retractable roof continues to be installed and ready for the 2009 tournament. It appears a small stadium/bleacher section will be constructed on court No. 13 – in place of the rows of bleachers under the awning. At the Wimbledon Museum, I watched the highlights of the 1973 “strike year” men’s final when Czech Jan Kodes beat the Soviet Union’s Alex Metreveli. In lieu of allegations and controversy of betting in tennis and the allegations of involvement of the Russian mob, it was amusing to hear the commentator’s voice on the highlight tape, in previewing the final, say that “the betting is on Kodes.”

It’s a tough situation for The Tennis Channel Open in Las Vegas to go head-to-head with Dubai Tennis Championships on the ATP calendar. No doubt that the appearance fees were aplenty in the Middle Eastern oil and finance capital as most of the top 10 played in the event, while The Tennis Channel Open got the leftovers. Why not make Dubai a larger co-ed event (as it is now, the women play the week before in Dubai) and then move The Tennis Channel Open to a different date? The tennis calendar could have three back-to-back-to-back “mega co-ed” events in Dubai, Indian Wells and Key Biscayne. The Tennis Channel Open could then move to later in the year (and warmer weather in Vegas or another location). The United States sure could use another clay court event (how about another event before or after the U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championships?).

Speaking of The Tennis Channel Open, how can you not love Sam Querrey? The 20-year-old American won his first ATP singles title in Vegas and seemed as laid back and relaxed as any player I have ever seen. He told The Tennis Channel’s Corina Morariu that he planned to prepare for his semifinal against Guillermo Canas by going “indoor skydiving” but he lost in place in line and the wait would have been too long….Fernando Gonzalez, Julien Benneteau and Lleyton Hewitt all had some great racquet smashing episodes at The Tennis Channel Open. TC commentator Jimmy Arias had a funny line during Hewitt’s smash of his Yonex frame; “You have to give Yonex a little credit there…it took two tries to break the racquet.”

Best investment for tennis fans – the $69.95 for a year subscription to the ATP Masters Series TV broadband coverage on ATPTennis.com. Why channel surf for Fox Sports Net during Indian Wells/Key Biscayne or stress whether you are going to get The Tennis Channel Open for most of the other offered events like Monte Carlo, Rome, Hamburg, etc.? The service offers near wall-to-wall coverage of all the top matches and if your computer has a high quality screen, it’s just like TV. Speaking of the Masters Series TV coverage, Jason Goodall, one of their fine commentary team members, spoke of talking to Igor Andreev in Dubai and asking him whether he would rather be No. 1 in the world or win a Grand Slam. Goodall reported that the Russian responded, “Neither…an Olympic Gold Medal.”