- Sandra Harwitt
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DELRAY BEACH, Fla. -- The Delray Beach International Tennis Championships has certainly had its growing pains over its 17-year existence. Initially, the tournament was based down the road in Coral Springs and was billed as America's Red Clay Championships. On paper, the concept seemed a great idea: By offering a field largely made up of American players an opportunity to compete on European red clay in the United States, it enabled them to spend less time abroad during the spring clay-court swing. Unfortunately, May conditions in South Florida are hot and humid, and not ideal for playing tennis. So the tournament reinvented itself as an outdoor hard-court event in Delray Beach during the winter.
The Delray tournament doesn't offer the biggest paycheck or the biggest assemblage of stars. But each year it draws a marquee field for an ATP World Tour 250 tournament that the hard-core local tennis fans attend, regardless of the fact they're not watching Rafael Nadal but his lesser-known Spanish compatriot Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.
It's a tour spot where the players are relaxed and happy to chat. Here are a few things we learned during the week:
Marriage has been good to Mardy
For Fish, this was a great place to capture his third career title in 13 finals. He had home-court advantage: He grew up less than an hour away, in Vero Beach. Fish's parents, Tom and Sally, along with his sister, Meredith, and her boyfriend were in attendance. And so was Stacey Gardner, his bride of six months, who is a nonpracticing lawyer and currently one of the briefcase models on "Deal or No Deal."
Fish said that since getting married in the fall, he has a new perspective on his career: "Happiness off the court translates into calmness and a nice sense that everything is OK. It gives you that extra incentive because you've added on another person, to win more. I'm just not playing for myself anymore because I have a family. And down the road, we'll have some little ones to worry about as well."
Kournikova's cousin can play
When Evgeny Korolev played at Delray Beach last week, his aunt, Alla Kournikova, sat attentively in the stands for every match, watching with Korolev's mother, Irina, who is Alla's sister.
Watching tennis matches is not a new experience for Korolev's aunt. Alla led her daughter, Anna Kournikova, to the top 10, not to mention mentoring Anna's rise to fame off the court.
Nowadays, when it comes to tennis, Alla touts the talented Korolev.
"He's playing very great, my nephew," Alla said. "Our whole family is here and we're enjoying watching him very much. I enjoyed [it] because he's playing like crazy. His shots -- he's so very powerful on his shots. He always has had a good backhand. I think he's the fastest hitter on the tour. I couldn't even see the ball."
Clearly, the aunt knows what she's talking about. Her nephew hit his way through the qualifying draw to clinch his first career final berth.
Although cousin Anna has shown up in the past to watch Korolev, there were no Kournikova sightings at Delray Beach last week. According to Korolev, she's very busy, but she did phone to congratulate him when he reached the semifinals.
Small guys can play
There must be something in Belgium's water because its players seem to have a reality-based view of life.
For former world No. 1 Justine Henin, it was the practical decision that she had had enough tennis and was ready to move on. For Kim Clijsters, it was knowing two years in advance that she was going to pull the plug on her career to move on to marriage and motherhood.
For Christophe Rochus, it's turning limitations into positives, such as leveraging his diminutive 5-foot-7 frame when most of his peers are brawny 6-foot guys.
"I'm smart, I'm really smart in everything," said Rochus, who journeyed to the Delray semifinals. "I know I cannot win on my strength. I have to play tennis like a chess game, and in life also. Since I'm young, I've had to think more to finding a solution. All the small guys on tour, they are smart -- [Fabrice] Santoro, [Sebastien] Grosjean -- they're all smart players."
It's also about knowing your place in the family tennis pecking order.
Christophe Rochus' career-high ranking is No. 38, and he has yet to win a tournament. His younger brother, Olivier, who is recuperating from shoulder surgery, has a career-high ranking of No. 24 and two career titles.
Simple deduction: Olivier is the better player.
"It's the way it is and you have to be able to see the truth," Christophe said. "There is no problem to say that someone is better than you. I'm happy. I'm doing my career and he's doing a better one."
Porsches aren't all the same
Delray Beach doubles champions Bob and Mike Bryan drove a Porsche over from their Tampa, Fla., home. But when tournament officials offered the twins another Porsche -- the car company was a tournament sponsor -- they eagerly took the keys.
But because you can drive one Porsche doesn't mean you can drive every Porsche. The brothers' car isn't your typical sports car -- it's an automatic with a turbo-charged engine.
"They gave us a Porsche Carrera for the week," Bob Bryan said, and laughed. "We stalled it out about 17 times on our way down Atlantic Avenue. We turned a $100,000 car into a $40,000 car in a split second."
The victory was the brothers' 52nd, which leaves them nine titles away from tying the doubles record held by Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde. In the Bryans' estimation, and with a little luck, they could be a couple of years away from breaking the Woodies' record.
Sela says Sweden's overreacting
After Delray Beach, Israel's Dudi Sela was off to Malmo, Sweden, to play Davis Cup in front of an empty stadium.
Sweden cited concerns for the safety of the Israelis in Malmo, which has a large Muslim population, in light of the recent Israeli insurgency in Gaza.
Sela says Swedish officials are "overreacting" to the situation. "Davis Cup is all about the atmosphere and the crowd, so it's a little bit disappointing," he said. "We're going to give our best and I think they'll give their best, so we'll see how it goes."
Sandra Harwitt is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.
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