Disheartening news won't keep Huber down for long
Down But Not Out
MELBOURNE, Australia -- World No. 1 doubles player Liezel Huber won't be on the Fed Cup team that will play Germany on Feb. 2-3 in La Jolla, Calif., but the fact that she's not on the list won't necessarily jeopardize the new U.S. citizen's ability to compete in the Beijing Olympics.
Huber told ESPN.com that Fed Cup captain Zina Garrison called to give her the bad news Thursday. "It's hard not to take personally, I'm very disappointed, but I thanked her for considering me," said Huber, who had asked for early notification so she could plan her schedule with doubles partner Cara Black of Zimbabwe. "It's a shame because I would have been the proudest American there."
Players seeking eligibility for the U.S. Olympic team have to make themselves available for Fed Cup play in the period leading up to the Summer Games, and Huber has met that standard. Her No. 1 ranking is helpful but does not guarantee her an Olympic slot.
The only player officially selected for the team thus far is Lindsay Davenport, although it's widely assumed that veteran doubles player and Fed Cup stalwart Lisa Raymond will be chosen. Davenport and Raymond have played doubles previously on the WTA Tour. Garrison also is trying to persuade the Williams sisters to play. If they decline, the next highest-ranked U.S. singles player is No. 46 Meilen Tu, who played Fed Cup for the first time last year and lost her only match to Russia.
Garrison must announce her roster 10 days before the event. Fed Cup and Davis Cup captains often shy away from selecting two doubles specialists because it means they have no backup in case a singles player is injured, although the Bryan brothers altered that equation on the reigning champion U.S. Davis Cup team.
Born and raised in South Africa, the 31-year-old Huber, whose maiden name was Horn, came to the United States at age 15 to train at the Van Der Meer Tennis Academy in Hilton Head, S.C., with not much more than the clothing on her back. "Everyone has an opportunity in America," she said. "I mean, I came here with a suitcase."
Two years later, she began dating her future husband and current coach Tony Huber. They married eight years ago and now live outside Houston.
Huber became a U.S. citizen last July. Her native country did not send a tennis team to the Olympics in 2004, she said, and does not plan to this time either. "I'd be so honored to play for a first-world country on a big stage," Huber said. "I can't imagine what that would be like. [The South African] Fed Cup team plays in a lower group. We pay our own air tickets."
Huber and Black took over the No. 1 ranking last season, while Raymond's partner, Samantha Stosur of Australia, was sidelined by illness. Raymond, currently ranked No. 3 in doubles, lost her first-round match Thursday with partner Francesca Schiavone.
In an interview two weeks ago, Raymond expressed some reservations about having Huber replace another U.S. player who had played Fed Cup in the past.
Forecast FeverIf you can't take the heat, don't enter the Australian Open. The tournament played in the middle of summer in the Southern Hemisphere is famous for sweltering weather that can take the air right out of players.
Conditions have been moderate so far this year, breezy with sunny skies and seasonal but not overbearing warmth as the day wears on. But Melbourne's climate is changeable, to put it mildly. No Aussie Open would be complete without at least one Jump Day, which is currently forecast for the end of next week -- just in time for the semifinals and finals.
Jump Day is a climactic phenomenon in which the prevailing winds from the south suddenly shift at the approach of a high-pressure system and begin blowing from the torrid interior of the country north of Melbourne. When that happens, the temperature can skyrocket from a nighttime low in the high 50s to a scorching high of 100 degrees or above.
The man responsible for tracking weather patterns is retired meteorologist Bob Leighton, who works under contract with the tournament, doing his prognosticating out of a small, windowless office next door to tournament referee Wayne McKewen.
Leighton, 67, who worked for the Australian government's Bureau of Meteorology for most of his career, doesn't get to see much tennis. Players walk right by him in the hallways at Rod Laver Arena. Yet what he does can be crucial to their well-being.
One of Leighton's main tasks is to calculate the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature -- a fancy name for what most of us call the heat index -- a ratio of heat and humidity determined through a complex formula. When the WBGT climbs into the high 20s and low 30s, the referee has the discretion to suspend matches on outside courts, and close the roof on Laver.
Jump Day isn't always accompanied by high humidity -- quite the opposite, as moisture levels often plunge to 10 percent, Leighton said. The intense heat also tends to pass quickly after a couple of days. "We don't bake for a week," he said. When Jump Day leaps away, the temperature can drop 25 degrees in an hour.
Leighton said he expects to see showers over this weekend, followed by a few more temperate days before the heat descends.
Young Switches Management Agencies
Atlanta resident Donald Young, a former IMG client, has signed with Octagon following a breakthrough season in which he won his first professional tournament, advanced to the third round of the U.S. Open, twice served as a Davis Cup partner and cracked the top 100. Young, a four-year pro despite his tender age (18), lost a tough first-round match to German lefty Michael Berrer here.
--Bonnie D. Ford
Maria Sharapova didn't like missing seven tournaments late last year with a shoulder injury, but she saw it all in a good light: It gave her time to catch up with friends and to do some decorating in houses she owns in California and Florida.
"I had a week or two when I had a friend's birthday somewhere. I could fly and actually see her instead of missing someone's birthday or spending time with the people that I love and actually not having them fly to me," Sharapova says.
"I probably spent a little more money on both of my houses than I would like to, because I had a lot of that free time. I wish I could spend that time on the court, but on the other hand, it was good to experience the other side of my life as well."
Sharapova, who plays fellow Russian Elena Vesnina in the third round Friday, collects modern California art and also favors antiques from exotic countries.
"The cool thing about traveling is I get to go to places like Indonesia or Bali or Morocco, and my dad goes to Morocco a lot," she says.
"I always have him bring like an antique piece that I mix with early modern pieces to make the house comfortable. It's a work in progress."
An early candidate for tennis headline of the year led the sports section of the Melbourne Age newspaper Thursday. The tabloid cover featured a typically swashbuckling photograph of Rafael Nadal next to this text: "Sex Appeal? If the top male players keep winning so easily, it's hard to justify paying them as much prize money as the women." Our kudos to colleague Richard Hinds for the amusing and original column that spurred the cover.
--Bonnie D. Ford
Reporters finally got a chance to ask Venus Williams how she felt about an Australian television commentator's focus on her backside two nights ago. Sister Serena fielded the question with tongue-in-cheek humor the day before, and Venus also rose to the occasion.
"I think Serena is the Williams sister that is famous for her derriere," Venus said after defeating France's Camille Pin to advance to the third round. "She makes all kinds of songs, Kanye West and Snoop Dog, all kinds of things. She's renowned. So I guess I'm getting a one-up on her, maybe."
We promise this is the last Williams posterior update -- at least for today
--Bonnie D. Ford
Bonnie D. Ford is on the grounds at the Australian Open for the two-week event. She'll have firsthand knowledge of everything that's transpiring Down Under. Send your questions to Bonnie here.