Commentary

Medley of injuries have taken their toll

Imagine being subjected to a two-hour nap for merely hanging up a painting. Such was the case for Taylor Dent, who is among a select few former standouts attempting to come back from injuries.

Updated: January 15, 2009, 9:49 AM ET
By Ravi Ubha | Special to ESPN.com

Markk PhilippoussisOdd Anderson/AFP/Getty ImagesDespite a series of maladies, Mark Philippoussis is giving tennis one more attempt.

For many, a new year brings renewed optimism. That must be the case for this bunch of former standouts, all trying to relive past glories after lengthy absences. The cast includes three big servers, a veteran of veterans and a brash baseliner from Eastern Europe.

Taylor Dent: Multiple back surgeries rendered Dent the forgotten man of U.S. tennis, but the burly, net-rushing Californian has re-emerged.

Last week, Dent won his first top-tier match in three years, taking out unpredictable Belgian Steve Darcis at the inaugural Brisbane International. It was fitting the triumph came in Australia, given Dent's dad, Phil, is a former Aussie pro who played a significant role in his comeback. (Dent is also known in Aussie circles for engaging in a few fierce battles with Lleyton Hewitt.)

Dent faired well in the second round, too, losing a tight two-set affair against eventual semifinalist Richard Gasquet. In need of match practice, he continued his recovery at this week's World Tennis Challenge in Adelaide.

"I didn't have the back surgeries to play tennis again," the 27-year-old, using a protected ranking of 56th, told the ATP World Tour in Brisbane. "I was doing it to kind of lead a somewhat normal life. I'd walk around the house, hang up a painting, and then have to lie down for two hours."

Unsurprisingly, Dent's goals, at least at this stage, have little to do with ranking -- he hovered around the top 20 in 2005 and owns four titles, one more than his father. He hopes to stay healthy, and when it comes to his game, figures he needs to hold 85 percent of the time to compete with the big boys.

Mark Philippoussis: Will he or won't he play in the Australian Open? In recent Januarys, that's the question Philippoussis has routinely been asked. This time the answer is unequivocally, "No."

Philippoussis and his booming delivery have been off the tour for three years, a result of recurring knee problems that led to five surgeries. More than a few critics suggest a failure to look after his body contributed to the knee woes.

The hunky 32-year-old still harbors hopes of returning to the circuit, though, and joined Dent in Adelaide this week.

"I want to try to come back because I want to," Philippoussis, unranked, told reporters. "I miss it, I love the game, and it's as simple as that. The hitting has never been a problem for me. It's the movement. I'm hitting the ball great. I'll just see how my body holds up."

Even if he does return, the potential of yesteryear is gone. Instead of making history at Wimbledon in 2003, he'll go down as Roger Federer's first victim in a Grand Slam final. Mark him down as one of the best male players never to win a major.

"Had Mark worked consistently harder on his physical abilities, he would have won a couple of Grand Slams," fellow Aussie John Newcombe, a seven-time Grand Slam champion, said last month.

Kimiko Date-Krumm: For a significant time, Ai Sugiyama carried the torch for Japanese tennis, and gamely. She's got company now in exciting teen Kei Nishikori and Date-Krumm, someone old enough to be Nishikori's mother.

Out of the blue, the 38-year-old returned to the circuit last spring, 12 years after announcing her retirement while still in the top 10. (She did play in a doubles match in Japan in 2002.) Date-Krumm, who eventually married German race car driver Michael Krumm, said she maxed out her potential. An assortment of injuries didn't help.

In her first tournament of 2008, Date-Krumm showed glimpses of the form that earned her a spot in three Grand Slam semifinals and a ranking of fourth, knocking off two top-100 players en route to reaching the final of a minor-league event in Japan. Three titles of the same caliber followed, with perhaps Date-Krumm's most impressive victory coming against Aussie Casey Dellacqua, then in the top 50.

Her year-end ranking soared to 198th.

"I'm just enjoying playing tennis," Date-Krumm told reporters last week in New Zealand, where she lost in the opening round of the ASB Classic to fellow thirty-something Jill Craybas. "Of course if I play, I don't want to lose, but it's not like before when I only thought about winning and being in the top 10."

[+] EnlargeJoachim Johansson
Daniel Sannum-Lauten/AFP/Getty ImagesTouted as one of the next superstars, Joachim Johansson has been marred by pervasive shoulder injuries.
Joachim Johansson: Like Dent and Philippoussis, Johansson has ties to Australia. He dated Hewitt's sister, Jaslyn, in 2004 -- the same year he lost to the bulldog-ish baseliner in the U.S. Open semifinals and helped Sweden upset Australia on the road in the Davis Cup.

The similarities continue: Johansson is a big guy with a big serve - he co-holds the record for most aces in a match, 51 (at, you guessed it, the Australian Open) -- but his body let him down.

Recurring shoulder injuries led "Pim Pim" to initially retire last February, but Johansson emerged at October's Stockholm Open before announcing his decision to return fully.

Johansson surely didn't have trouble finding someone to converse with this week when discussing his injuries and comeback, and we're not talking about a truckload of female fans. He, too, was in Adelaide for the World Tennis Challenge.

Sesil Karatantcheva: Karatantcheva and controversy were close companions even before she was banned two years for failing a drug test.

Prior to a match against Maria Sharapova in Indian Wells, Calif. in 2004, Karatantcheva vowed to "kick her a--" due to an alleged incident during training at the Bollettieri academy in Florida. Sharapova won in three sets, truly inflicting her revenge a year later at Wimbledon, dropping only a solitary game.

When authorities went public with Karatantcheva's positive test for nandrolone -- stemming from an initial sample at the 2005 French Open, where she made headlines by toppling Venus Williams -- Karatantcheva reportedly claimed the higher than allowable limits were due to a pregnancy. Early in 2006, the International Tennis Federation disagreed and Karatantcheva became the first women's pro to be suspended for steroid use.

Returning in the minors last year, Karatantcheva won her first two tournaments. Once ranked as high as No. 35, the baseliner stands at 135th.

Just this week, Karatantcheva made more headlines: Her dad said she'd represent Kazakhstan, instead of her native Bulgaria, for the next three years, to ensure "financial stability."

Did we mention she's only 19?

"As much as I feel like a rookie, I feel like a grandmother on the tour, seeing all these 14- and 15-year-olds coming," Karatantcheva, who reached the second round in Brisbane as a qualifier, told reporters. "I remember when I was 14, 15. They probably think I'm slow and old."

Karatantcheva and Date-Krumm won their opening matches in Australian Open qualifying.

Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.