Martina's comeback highlights start of season
From Hingis' comeback to Sharapova's health, Bonnie DeSimone previews the 2006 season on the WTA Tour.
Can Martina Hingis regain top-10 form after two full years on hiatus and a third under the radar with World Team Tennis?
Don't rush to judgment either way after watching Hingis later this month in Australia. Any player coming back after that long, with that kind of scrutiny, probably will need time to find her rhythm. If Hingis pulls it off, she'll bring pleasure to connoisseurs of crafty shot making everywhere, along with another, increasingly rare commodity: an undiluted desire to play.
Should Monica Seles attempt a comeback 10 years after her emotional return from a courtside stabbing?
She never officially retired after chronic foot problems nudged her out of the WTA Tour in 2003. Seles exuded ambivalence in public comments last month, giving herself an odd, passive "deadline": If she doesn't return this year, it's over. She has nothing to prove as far as courage is concerned, but she should know better than anyone that massive enthusiasm would be a prerequisite to wade back in at the age of 32, with her history. We would like it if someone threw her a decent party, though.
She went 41-7 and won three tournaments in the first half of the season, reached three Grand Slam semifinals and was No. 1 for seven weeks, finishing at No. 4. Injuries dragged down her second half and threaten to spill into the coming year, as she's already withdrawn from an Aussie Open tune-up. It would be tasteless to hint that Sharapova hurt her back and chest carting her $18.2 million (most of it endorsement income) to the bank, but the 18-year-old darling of Madison Avenue will continue to face questions about which set of rankings means more to her: Forbes Magazine's or the WTA's.
When will the WTA fully commit to implementing an electronic line-calling system?
The women's tour hasn't seemed quite as keen on it as the ATP or U.S. Open organizers and is still weighing the merits of two systems it has tested, the British Hawkeye or Canada's Auto Ref. WTA CEO Larry Scott said in November that it was "likely" the all-seeing machinery would be in place at some tournaments by mid season.
How about her first Grand Slam trophy since the 2000 Australian Open? She finished as year-end No. 1 for the fourth time and earned her 50th career WTA title in the process, but couldn't get over the hump in teeth-gritting finals against Serena Williams in Melbourne and Venus Williams at Wimbledon. It feels as though Davenport's been playing on borrowed time, and skillfully leveraging that loan, since deciding to carry on rather than retiring a year ago. She apparently wants to shake things up a little and recently parted with coach Adam Peterson, who has worked with her for the last three years.
Isn't there a better way for tennis followers to learn about drug busts than leaks to L'Equipe, the French sports daily?
The paper's crusade to expose doping in sports might be laudable, but anonymous sourcing makes it difficult to know how to treat allegations like those in a report last month about 16-year-old Sesil Karatantcheva of Bulgaria, whom the paper claimed tested positive for a steroid at the French Open last spring. The International Tennis Federation could do everyone involved a favor by expediting due process and breaking its own news.
What kind of host will Madrid make for the year-end WTA championships?
Another city deserves a chance after Los Angeles was unable to raise its event temperature much above lukewarm during a four-year run. But unless there's a sudden groundswell of native talent, no one's going to have home-court advantage. Former world No. 2 and '94 Wimbledon champ Conchita Martinez, who will be 34 by the time the 2006 championships roll around, was this year's highest ranked Spanish player at No. 31.
How seriously will the WTA entertain recent calls by several notables, including Tracy Austin and Martina Navratilova, to shorten the season or give its hobbling players more rest?
And can someone make sure Kim Clijsters gets her daily nap, her milk and cookies, or whatever will keep her in the game past the age 24, when she's threatening to retire?
Which Williams sisters will show up this season -- the earth-scorchers or the part-timers?
Will Jelena Dokic's move back to Australia reinvigorate her fledgling career and strike another blow for Daughters vs. Daddies?
Freelance writer Bonnie DeSimone is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.