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No. 1 up for grabs at Open

Posted: Monday, August 29, 2005

NEW YORK — Women's tennis and the NFL have one thing in common: injuries galore.

Tennis seems a tame game compared with football's violence, but there's no shortage of aches among the women trooping into the U.S. Open on Monday with their bandages and painkillers, physical therapists and chiropractors.

Kim Clijsters, one of the few top players completely healthy at the moment, has been sizzling this summer and is favored to win her first Grand Slam championship after racking up her tour-leading sixth title. She's rated a better bet than No. 1 seed Maria Sharapova (returning from a strained chest muscle) and the woman set to reclaim the No. 1 spot in the WTA Tour rankings on Monday, Lindsay Davenport (returning from a back injury).

Yet Clijsters, all of 22, spoke Sunday of retiring in two years because of the toll tennis has taken on her body. She's weary of injuries and worried about how they will affect her life away from tennis in the future.

Her most serious problem last year was a torn tendon in her left wrist, which led to surgery and cost her most of the season, as well as the start of this year. She made a strong comeback when she returned to the tour in February, despite a knee injury in May.

''I know how my body is feeling now and that, for me, is the main reason,'' Clijsters said of her thoughts of retirement. ''For the next two years ... I'll just have to look after my body, make sure I have massages every day, do my knee exercises, my shoulder exercises and my core exercises. There's so much. I need to do all those things if I want to be able to play as well as I have been. That's why, after the U.S. Open, I'm going to have a long break ... just to make sure that everything is right again and that I recover well.''

Retirement plans can, of course, change.

Davenport, 29, spoke last year about retiring. She, too, was having enough of foot and back injuries, among others, along with repeated rehabs. But she got a second wind in her career, finished last year No. 1 and has occupied the top spot most of this year, albeit without winning a Grand Slam title since the Australian in 2000. She's come close twice this year, reaching the finals of the Australian and Wimbledon.

''A couple of wins there (on the WTA Tour) gave me a lot of confidence to keep going, and I've kind of sustained that confidence,'' she said. ''I work way harder now than at any point in my career, off the court, and I feel like that, all of a sudden, came into play quite a bit. I enjoy it more now. I don't know if that's because I came to the realization that I might be without it soon, or came to the realization that I better enjoy the last few years, however long they last.''

Clijsters' fellow Belgian, Justine Henin-Hardenne, 23, is not thinking quite yet about retirement but certainly can empathize with her about all the health issues. A blood virus kept Henin-Hardenne off the court much of last year, a right knee fracture during practice in December delayed her return to court until March, then a right hip flexor strain set her back in April.

Amazingly, she overcame all that to win the French Open in June, though a right hamstring injury in July hampered her again.

''I'm much better,'' she said Sunday. ''It's been hard to come back again after an injury in the last couple of weeks. It hasn't been once, not twice, but three times in a year.

''I'm not probably going to play as much as I did the last few years because I need to stay healthy for a couple of more years. I want to play for a long time. I'm not going to retire in two or three years, for sure.''

Serena and Venus Williams have had more than their share of injuries the past few years but both will playing in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Monday. Tournament officials want to feature the former two-time champions, seeded eighth and 10th, respectively, early on — since they could clash in the fourth round.

French Open champion Rafael Nadal of Spain, seeded No. 2 in the men's draw behind Wimbledon champ Roger Federer, also will play on the main stadium court during the afternoon. The night belongs to Sharapova and Andre Agassi.

Federer, Andy Roddick and Davenport play their first matches on Tuesday.

Fifth-seeded Marat Safin, the 2000 champion, withdrew Sunday due to an ongoing problem with his left knee. He handed Federer one of his three losses this year, in the semifinals of the Australian Open, en route to winning the event.

Safin's place in the draw will be taken by lucky loser Bjorn Phau of Germany.



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