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Monday, December 29, 2008

On Tennis: Federer going all out in January

Roger Federer is pumped.

No doubt wanting to make a statement early in 2009, he's playing the most he ever has in January, starting with a lucrative exhibition in Abu Dhabi this week that features two of his main rivals, world No. 1 Rafael Nadal and Scottish talent Andy Murray.

The majestic Swiss then hits the Qatar Open, with Nadal and Murray resurfacing, before competing in the Kooyong Classic, another exhibition and his only form of Australian Open prep in recent years.

Federer was afflicted with mono last year at this time, though he didn't know it, and it predictably affected his 2008 season. He lost in the Australian Open semis to upstart Novak Djokovic, only salvaging his campaign by claiming a fifth straight U.S. Open and doubles gold at the Olympics in China.

"Never before have I started a tennis year as early as the one ahead," Federer told his Web site. "There is such a large number of challenges lying ahead. Facing them, working hard and giving my best to succeed is precisely why I love my job so much."

Wins over Nadal and Murray prior to Melbourne, regardless of whether they're in exhibitions or not, would do Federer good: He went a miserable 1-7 against the duo the past 12 months.

NO ROOF FOR SAMPRAS: It might keep the tennis going, but Pete Sampras is no fan of Wimbledon's new retractable roof.

The roof is set to be operational by the time next year's tournament begins, which means the big stars won't be affected when the inevitable rain comes. The mere mortals on the circuit, well, will have to fend for themselves.

"I don't like it," Sampras, who won half of his 14 Grand Slam titles at Wimbledon, told the Tennis Channel. "I understand why for television and the fans this is happening, but one of the most difficult things to deal with at Wimbledon as a player are the rain delays. I feel everyone has to be on the same playing field, and (with the roof) the top guys are at a slight advantage to get their match in versus someone that might lose his day off."

That being said, Sampras said he'd consider playing in an event to test the roof in mid-May, about a month prior to the start of Wimbledon 2009. Rumor has it that John McEnroe, Tim Henman and Boris Becker might also be asked to participate.

"Going over to London is not an easy trip, but that could be a pretty cool event, so would I consider it?" the California resident said. "Absolutely."

Early in December, Sampras made his first visit to England since 2002 -- when he exited in the second round at Wimbledon -- by competing at a seniors' event. He, however, stayed away from the All England Club.

LOVE IS IN THE AIR: Ana Ivanovic is one of the world's best players and widely considered one of the most attractive, so she gets a lot of attention. The Serb is getting even more now, thanks to her relationship with another pro -- Spaniard Fernando Verdasco, no stranger to mingling with models and actresses in the past.

The two have been dating more months, and Ivanovic recently bought a house in Spain (as a base for training purposes, she insists).

How is she handling the sudden interest in her private life?

"It's something that comes with success," Ivanovic said. "It's obviously not one of the better things about being a professional tennis players, but there is no point complaining or trying to avoid it."

Ivanovic, who had a miserable second half of 2008 after winning her first Grand Slam title at the French Open in June, arrived Down Under early to ready for the Australian Open. Apart from hitting balls, she's been running up hills and along beaches.

"I'm going through the most intense training period of the season," Ivanovic said. "I have three sessions a day most days, combining both practice on the court and fitness. It's very exhausting."

SECOND SERVES: John Isner, who took his knocks in his second year on the pro circuit, earned a wild card for the Australian Open by winning a mini USTA tournament. Armed with one of the biggest serves around, the 6-foot-9 North Carolina native finished the year ranked 144th -- he was inside the top 85 in April. Christina McHale, a 16-year-old from New Jersey, won the women's event. She's never played in a top-tier match before. ... Two-time Grand Slam champion Mary Pierce, soon 34 and battling a serious knee injury, says she doesn't plan on retiring yet. The Florida-based power baseliner last played in October 2006. ....Temperamental Aussie wonder-kid Bernard Tomic, 16, will make his top-level debut at the Brisbane International in Australia next week after being handed a wild card. Tomic drew criticism for walking off the court at a third-tier tournament in Perth, Australia, in early December. His dad, upset that Tomic's opponent wasn't being called for foot faults, ordered him to quit. ....Check out the Web sites of the ATP and WTA Tours for holiday videos featuring some of their top stars. California's Sam Querrey has quite the voice.

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