Tennis '05 fires up next week

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The 2005 tennis season will commence next week with no less than five tournaments in four countries.

As players tune-up for the upcoming Australian Open, the men will be in Adelaide (Australia), Doha (Qatar) and Chennai (India), while the ladies will start swinging in Gold Coast (Australia) and Auckland (New Zealand). The event in Chennai is still scheduled to be played (at the time of this article) despite the tsunami catastrophe that has ravaged parts of several nations, including India, where at least 7,300 are reported dead. The death toll (again, at the time of this article) has rocketed to 114,000 in Southern Asia and East Africa, as 12 nations felt the wrath of the enormous natural disaster produced by an earthquake under the Indian Ocean.

Back to tennis...I guess.

The ATP and WTA Tours will stage a combined 10 tourneys over the next two weeks in preparation for the 2005 Aussie Open, which will kick off January 17 in Melbourne.

Just about anybody who is anybody in the world of professional tennis will see action over the next couple of weeks, including the planet's top player, the incomparable Roger Federer. The sublime Swiss will head up the field in Doha at the $1 million Qatar Open.

Federer is coming off one of the best seasons in the history of tennis, compiling an amazing 74-6 record on his way to a whopping 11 titles, including victories in three of the four Grand Slam events. He became the first man in 16 years (Mats Wilander in 1988) to corral three quarters of the major hardware in one season and piled up an astounding $6,357,547 in prize money along the way.

The "Fed" will be the defending champion in a few weeks in Melbourne, where he throttled big Russian Marat Safin in last year's final.

Justine Henin-Hardenne
Justine Henin-Hardenne was slowed by health problems in 2004, missing a good part of the campaign while battling an
energy-draining illness.
On the women's side, the Russians hope to continue their rise in the sport, as they accounted for three of last year's Grand Slam winners and five of the eight major finalists. Anastasia Myskina (French Open), Maria Sharapova (Wimbledon) and Svetlana Kuznetsova (U.S. Open) captured Slams, while their hard-hitting compatriot Elena Dementieva finished as the runner-up in the all- Russian French and U.S. Open finals.

Women's tennis needs comeback seasons from former Belgian No. 1s Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters. Henin-Hardenne, despite winning Australian Open and Olympic titles in 2004, was slowed by health problems, missing a good part of the campaign while battling an energy-draining illness. Clijsters, meanwhile, missed most of the year after suffering a left wrist injury, and could miss the fast-approaching Aussie extravaganza.

Henin-Hardenne beat Clijsters in the 2004 all-Belgian Aussie Open final before both players ultimately succumbed to physical problems.

The ladies' tour would also benefit from busy schedules for the superstar Williams sisters, who, in 2004, failed to win a major title for the first time since 1998. Whether it was Serena or Venus, one of the powerful siblings managed to secure at least one Grand Slam title in five straight years before both came up empty in '04. Serena landed in the Wimbledon final, but was shocked by the popular Russian teen Sharapova in straight sets.

Back to the men.

Federer's closest competitor (in the rankings, anyway), Andy Roddick, will look to start anew in 2005, as the massive-serving American recently fired his loquacious coach, former ATP star Brad Gilbert. Roddick didn't give an exact reason for the surprise dismissal, but an apparent tennis step back in '04 seems to be a good enough reason as any.

Roddick hired Gilbert in June of 2003, went on to win the U.S. Open a few months later and ultimately finished the year at No. 1. But 2004 saw "A-Rod" drop to No. 2, behind the better Federer, and fail to win a major. The brash American lost to Federer in the marquee Wimbledon final back in July.

Former No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt and an immensely-talented Safin will join Roddick in their pursuit of Federer in 2005, while the great Andre Agassi has probably won his last major and is not likely to regain a world No. 1 ranking. Agassi will attempt to win a fifth Aussie Open crown in a few weeks, but a deep field in Melbourne, spearheaded by the great Federer, could prevent such a feat.

Back to the women.

At 28 years of age, Lindsay Davenport will look to maintain her surprise top- ranked status (despite failing to reach a Grand Slam final since winning the 2000 Aussie Open), while former No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo also expects to be in the mix for the year-end top spot in '05. Mauresmo, like Davenport, also reached the top of the women's rankings in 2004 despite failing to reach a major final since her trip to the 1999 Aussie Open title match -- her only appearance in a Grand Slam final. Mauresmo's a great player, she's just not the cream o' the crop.

Will former world No. 1 and three-time major champion Jennifer Capriati enjoy a bounce-back campaign in 2005 and truly challenge the game's other top performers? Can she win those elusive Wimbledon and U.S. Open crowns? Are her days at No. 1 over? I say no, no and yes to the questions posed.

Let the (tennis) games begin!

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