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The Inside Track | TENNIS

Double Fault of 2005: Injuries, Withdrawals

December 29, 2005|LISA DILLMAN

For every apparent positive drug test and accompanying flimsy excuse, there is a largely two-man team (Ivan Ljubicic/Mario Ancic) from Croatia winning the Davis Cup for the first time.

For every suspicious injury withdrawal, there is a gripping five-setter between James Blake and Andre Agassi at the U.S. Open, filled with audacious shot-making and genuine, post-match esprit de corps.

For the every surreal moment of the ATP's being sued by its own members -- doubles specialists with a cause -- there is a mystery of how exactly the lightly regarded Stephen Huss and Wesley Moodie became the first qualifiers to win the Wimbledon men's doubles crown.

You see, tennis wasn't all doom and gloom in 2005. After all, Marcelo Rios stayed retired ... and Martina Hingis didn't.

And so, one last look at the highlights, lowlights and other sidelights of the year in tennis:

Best match: Australian Open semifinals, Marat Safin defeated Roger Federer, 5-7, 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (6), 9-7. The sellout crowd in Melbourne went on a wild ride for nearly 4 1/2 hours with Safin, who saved one match point in the fourth set and then needed seven match points to finally put down Federer.

After it was over, after midnight, the crowd sang "Happy Birthday," serenading Safin, who was celebrating his 25th birthday.

Sister, sister: Remember the number 4. That's how many match points opponents squandered against the victorious Team Williams in the Australian Open semifinals and Wimbledon final. Venus Williams saved one match point against Lindsay Davenport in the 10th game of the third set of their Wimbledon final, and Serena Williams saved three match points against Maria Sharapova in the semifinals.

Men's player of the year: Who else but Federer? He didn't win a major in 2005 until Wimbledon in July and promptly added another U.S. Open title in September to his lengthening resume. Some off year. Federer came oh-so-close to John McEnroe's 83-3 season record of 1984 by going 81-4.

Amid all the eye-popping statistics, consider Federer's resilience in the toughest of spots. At the Open, he was pushed to a tiebreaker against two of the game's most mentally tough players, Lleyton Hewitt and Agassi. In those two tense tiebreakers, one in the semifinals and the other in the final, Federer lost only one point.

Women's player of the year: Kim Clijsters. No longer Aussie Kim, having ended her engagement to Hewitt, her best results seem to be coming in the United States these days. Clijsters, coming back from career-threatening wrist surgery in 2004, won a tour-best nine titles this year, including tournaments at Indian Wells, Miami, Carson and her first major, the U.S. Open in New York. Yankee Kim, anyone?

Best victory celebration: Clijsters, the daughter of a well-known gymnast, rode the rail after beating Mary Pierce in the Open final. She made her way up a skinny rail to try to reach her family and friends and probably would have tumbled off if it hadn't been for the helpful hands of alert spectators. Memo to Clijsters: A rail is thinner than a balance beam.

Wounded knee ... and every other body part: Welcome to the WTA Tour. Venus and Serena Williams practically vanished after the U.S. Open and resurfaced to play on their own charity exhibition tour late in the year. Davenport's bad back kept her out of La Costa and Carson. Sharapova withdrew from La Costa and pulled out in the middle of the Carson event and then found out she would become No. 1 the following week.

The problem hit bottom at Carson on a Friday night in August. Sharapova had withdrawn earlier in the day and fans were relegated to suffering through a one-sided quarterfinal singles match and an exhibition doubles match.

It's Madrid's problem now: The season-ending WTA Tour Championships ended its four-year run at Staples Center, much to the relief of beleaguered AEG officials. French Open champion Justine Henin-Hardenne qualified but opted not to play, and the Williams sisters took off most of the fall and did not make the eight-player singles field, which meant the so-called prestigious event did not have three of the four Grand Slam champions of 2005. However, the event did leave on a high note, finishing with a terrific final between Pierce and Amelie Mauresmo, who won in three sets.

Not just a WTA problem: Similarly, the men's season-ending tournament in Shanghai was littered with withdrawals, most of them because of injuries. Hewitt opted to stay home to be around for the birth of his first child. French Open champion Rafael Nadal didn't play because of an injury. Agassi played one match and pulled out because of an ankle injury, which is still lingering. Shanghai morphed into the Argentine/Federer Open.

Some things we'd like to see in 2006: Any match between Hewitt and anybody from Argentina, no more references to Andy Roddick's lost mojo, a rematch of this year's French Open semifinal between Nadal and Federer, a match, heck, even a practice session, between Sharapova and Hingis, and Agassi and his wife, Steffi Graf, playing mixed doubles at a Grand Slam. Oh well, we can all dream.

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