Monday July 18th, 2011

1. Rekindling the fire: Particularly in recent weeks, we've discussed how and why former champions -- accustomed to winning and the perks that come with it -- prolong their career well beyond their glory days. They still savor the competition. If they no longer have one-in-a-billion talent, they still have one-in-100-million talent. Plus, every now and then, they can fire up a little magic.

Such was the case last week. Juan Carlos Ferrero, a former No. 1 player, a Grand Slam champion eight (gulp) years ago, JCF has since fallen deep in the rotation. His ranking has gone down the mineshaft. At age 31, he battles constant injuries. Even when Rafael Nadal pulled out, his name wasn't even mentioned for the Spanish Davis Cup roster. But last week, he looked like the world-beater of years past. Playing in just his third event of 2011, he won the Merceds Cup in Stuttgart, Germany, the 16th title of his career. It's not exactly winning the French Open. But one suspects that, in its way, it was comparably sweet.

2. Nightmarish schedule: The tennis calendar is a logic puzzle that no one has come close to solving. Why -- when all other sports ease into a season and allow time for plots to unfold -- does tennis hold its first major two weeks into the year? Why does the last major conclude in early September, rendering the entire autumn and early winter anticlimactic, yet only two weeks separate the French Open and Wimbledon? Why is a Davis Cup competition held five days after the Wimbledon final?

We got another sample of tennis' nuttiness this past week. The circuit threaded its way through two claycourt events in Europe -- right after the grasscourt stretch ended and the hardcourt season is about to commence. It was a dead week in the United States, save for World TeamTennis.

Now in its mid-30s, the WTT was created in the image of its ... how to put this? ... irrepressible co-founder, Billie Jean King. WTT matches tend to resemble a cross between a tennis event and a county fair replete with multi-colored courts, five-game minisets and mid-match dance contests in the stands. The alphabet soups sneer at WTT and treat it like the annoying tag-along younger sibling. But the better family analogy might be the wacky uncle. You go most of the year without seeing it. When you do, it's fun and entertaining, sometimes a little off-kilter, but ultimately benign. For more information, check out World TeamTennis' site.

3. Best wishes, Alisa: We idolize athletes to the point that they're human. And then life intervenes and we're reminded that they're susceptible to the same challenges as the rest of us. We got a reminder of this last week when Alisa Kleybanova, a top 20 player earlier this year, announced that she is receiving treatment for Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of cancer.

Here's her note in its entirety:

Hello everyone :)

It's my birthday today and I want to thank all of you for the wonderful messages. I haven't written anything for a long time about why I haven't been on tour, so that's why I'm writing this today.

It's not an easy time for me right now. I've been a bit unlucky with my health. I have Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of cancer. I've been having treatment in Italy and it has been going well, but it takes lots of patience and I've had to be really strong to go through this. The good news is after I do treatment for a few more months, if I feel well, there's a chance I'll be able to play tennis again. I really miss playing -- I miss seeing fans and friends around the world, I miss hitting the ball, I miss everything. Tennis has been my life for the last 15 years.

There are a few reasons I'm undergoing treatment in Italy. First, I have a training base and many close friends here, so it's like home. Second, they have a really great hospital here that specializes in this problem; I've been going there since the problem started, so the doctors know me well. It's the best place for me to be -- the surroundings help me stay strong.

I am a strong person. I've shown it before. Obviously this is different than anything I've ever experienced, but after this is over my life will be even better than before. This is the toughest time in my life, and I hope it always stays the toughest time in my life. I'm sure I'll be able to overcome this -- it's just a matter of patience and time.

When this is over, everything will be even better than before.

Of course, even though I'm in treatment, I hope I'll have a fun birthday today :) I'm really happy I have the best and most important people with me here today. My family and best friends are all here. They're here all of these days and weeks helping me get through this.

Anyway, I wanted to write to you all because it has been a long time. ... I won't be on tour for a little while, but I will see you all again soon :)

Alisa

Wish her well.

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