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9:24AM

Los Angeles Times: Tennis star Caroline Wozniacki comes out ahead in the long run

By Art Spander
Los Angeles Times

She's the Wizard of Woz, the woman who ran the New York City Marathon — "You don't know what the wall is until you hit it," she said — who posed, tastefully, for the recent Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue . . . who once was ranked No. 1 . . . who only Sunday won the Malaysian Open, her 23rd WTA tournament victory,

Caroline Wozniacki, one of the many stars at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, at age 24 has done almost everything. Other than win a Grand Slam tournament.

Read the full story here.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times

3:15PM

Los Angeles Times: BNP Paribas Open: Time is relative to Roger Federer

By Art Spander
Special to the Times

The old guy, Father Time, will triumph in the end. He always does. But for the moment Roger Federer is holding serve against him, which in a sport primarily of the young is no small achievement.

Federer has come to terms with reality. "If I can't play for No. 1," he said three days ago, "I'll play for winning titles."

Read the full story here.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

9:32AM

Los Angeles Times: Maria Sharapova goes from Winter Games to desert tennis

By Art Spander
Special to the Times

She went back to where it all started, to the wall in Sochi. Maria Sharapova, out of boredom really, as a child began smacking a tennis ball while her father played his weekly game a few feet away.

"My career started in Sochi," Sharapova said Wednesday, reviewing her trip home and to the Winter Olympics.

Read the full story here.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

10:09PM

Nadal wants to 'forget the knee,' but he can't

By Art Spander

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- “Forget the knee.” That was an order from the man with the knee, an order from Rafa himself.
   
Forget the knee, but how do we accede? For Rafael Nadal, so reckless on court, so fearless and subsequently so fragile, it is all about the left knee, which kept him away for tennis for seven months.
  
Without Nadal, who seemingly used to win the French Open by merely buying a croissant, who has taken all the Grand Slam tournaments, the game’s Big Four had been reduced by one.
  
He wasn’t at the U.S. Open. Wasn’t at the Australian Open. Wasn’t in any tournament on any court, clay or hard or grass, from June to February.
  
Waiting for Rafa, the swashbuckler. The one who goes after a backhand like a linebacker after a running back.
   
Waiting for a champion, while the champion, fighting gloom, lifts weights instead of trophies.
  
Seven months of rehab, and a month ago, the return, on a clay court, certainly, in Chile where it had to be both rewarding and depressing – if not as depressing as all the inaction – when he lost the final to the home boy, Horacio Zeballos.
  
For only the third time in his career, Nadal was beaten in a clay court final, and the other defeats were to Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.
   
But it was a step, the first step on that painful left knee. “I’m feeling better every week,” said Nadal after Chile.
   
Two weeks later, he was feeling fantastic. He beat the world’s fourth-ranked player, his Spanish countryman, David Ferrer, crushing him 6-0, 6-2.
  
“I had a fantastic tournament,” Nadal said Thursday. “Much better than when I was 100 percent in a lot of finals. One of my best matches on clay.”
   
Now at Indian Wells, the BNP Paribas Open, the first big event since the Australian Open – for Nadal the first big event since his stunning second-round loss at Wimbledon – the surface is hard court, the toughest on the body, the toughest on a knee.
  
It’s been a full year, since the Sony at Key Biscayne in March 2012, when that knee forced him to withdraw from the scheduled semifinal, since the 26-year-old Nadal played on a hard court.
  
“I will try my best,” said Nadal, “but I don’t expect nothing from the results here. I want to enjoy my time in competition. I am happy to be here. It is one of my favorite tournaments without a doubt. I love playing here, always.”
  
Indian Wells, just southeast of Palm Springs, glitz, glamour, huge mountains and, contrary to our images, maybe some rain in the next few days. The sun will return. Already, metaphorically, it has for Nadal.
 
“And if my knee continues right,” he said, ignoring his advice to us about the knee, “I hope to maintain the level on hard courts I had on clay.”
   
It was a difficult time for Nadal, away from the tour, away from the competitors, away from the energy, the success. It was a difficult time particularly missing the London Olympics, where the tennis was held at Wimbledon.
   
Nadal was unable to defend the singles gold he had won at Beijing. Even worse, he was prevented from carrying the Spanish flag in the opening ceremony.

"That was a sad moment for me," sighed Nadal. "These opportunities are not forever, maybe only one time in life. I lost that opportunity."
 
He is both a private person and a public person, a member of a close-knit family on the island of Mallorca, part of a huge gathering of international sportsmen. He relishes his time at home, boating, partying. He appreciates his time on the road.
  
“For sure,” he said in response to a question, “I can live without tennis, but when you cannot do what you want to do, it’s not easy. I’m a competitor.
  
“I know this world is not forever, tennis, and I will enjoy being a tennis player. I am lucky to work in one of my hobbies. It’s not easy to be out seven months. Tennis today is a very important part of my life.”
   
He speaks with a heavy accent, but his English has improved so much over the past few years, from when he needed a translator for conversations to a point he handles the idioms with the skill he handles his forehands. The interviews, as Thursday’s, have become less an obligation than an opportunity.
  
“I’m happy to be on a tennis court,” he said. “Happy to be competing, like I did in South America in the clay court season, like in Mexico in the clay court season. Full crowds every day, amazing crowds with me every time. Thank you very much.”
  
A loss to Zeballos, who ranks 39th, then in the next tournament a win over Ferrer, who ranks fourth.
 
What was the difference in your head between the finals, a journalist wondered of Nadal.
 
“In my head?” said Rafa. “My knee is the big difference. In my head, the only difference was I was able to compete close to 100 percent in Acapulco. I didn’t have that chance in Chile.”
  
Forget the knee? No chance.

5:08PM

Wozniacki stands up for McIlroy, and herself

By Art Spander

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – They’re not knocking Caroline Wozniacki this week. It’s her boyfriend who’s taking the figurative punches. That would be the walkoff lad himself, Rory McIlroy. And yes, contends the Woz, he’s still her boyfriend.
  
They were sport's fun couple, until they were transformed into sport’s troubled couple. Wozniacki, having fallen from No. 1 in the women’s world tennis rankings, is being faulted for too many faults – serving, that is -- and a slightly overdone impression of her friend Serena Williams, which was labeled everything from silly to racist.
   
McIlroy, still No. 1 in the men’s golf rankings, walked off the course during the second round of last week’s Honda Classic and walked into a buzzsaw, everyone from Jack Nicklaus to McIlroy’s playing partner at the Honda, Ernie Els, reminding him – and us – that his judgment was as poor as his game.
  
"Apropos of nothing and pertinent to everything," was the cleverly cutting comment on McIlroy’s departure after the eighth hole last Friday by James Corrigan of the London Daily Telegraph.
  
McIlroy first complained, “I was not in a good place mentally.” Corrigan, on hearing McIlroy say later he withdrew because of an impacted wisdom tooth, pointed out, “He meant he was not in a good place dentally.”
  
Preparing to play in this week’s Cadillac Championship at Doral, on Wednesday, McIlroy gave his unblinking apology to the media gathered there, and to a Golf Channel audience, which three time zones and some 2,500 miles distant included Ms. Wozniacki,
  
“He said what he had to say,” Wozniacki remarked at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden where she and the game’s other top stars, women and men, minus one -- a very important one, Serena -- are competing in the BNP Paribas Open.
    
“He was honest,” Wozniacki insisted of McIlroy’s comments. “Now he’s got to go out there this week and hopefully play some good golf.”
    
A few days back, the London papers carried stories saying that the 22-year-old Wozniacki, of Denmark, and the 23-year-old McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, had ended their two-year romance.
  
“We’ve been in the media spotlight so long separately,” Wozniacki answered when asked what’s like to date another headliner. “It’s nothing new. We’ve gotten so used to it, we don’t really pay attention anymore – unless it’s a rumor like the one the other day that we’ve broken up. Oh really? Thanks for letting me know.”
 
There’s no place to hide, as McIlroy conceded. He’s growing up in front of the world. His mistakes – you don’t withdraw from a golf tournament for anything short of a family emergency or serious ailment – are learning experiences with millions ready to offer advice or abuse.
  
Before Wimbledon last year, columnist Oliver Brown of the Telegraph dropped down to one of the warmup events for the women at Eastbourne on the English Channel, where Wozniacki was playing and McIlroy was watching.
  
“Quietly, and assuredly not of their own choosing, McIlroy and Wozniacki have been elevated to the realm of the power couple; the ‘Brangelina’ of sport, if you like,” Brown offered. “But their recent results encourage a thought, however uncharitable, that the pair are not exactly aiding each other’s professional progress.
  
“McIlroy has missed four cuts in his past five tournaments and, according to one observer, wafted at his final putt in the U.S. Open at San Francisco with an absentmindedness to suggest he could not wait to board the latest departure of ‘Wozilroy Airlines’ fast enough.

“His belle, meanwhile, has lost four of her past six matches and is without a WTA title in 10 months.”
   
Two months later, in August 2012, McIlroy would win his second major, the PGA Championship, heading to money titles for the year on both the PGA Tour and European Tour. So much for being absentminded.
  
And while Wozniacki hasn’t won in a while, in February she reached the semifinals at Dubai and the quarters at Doha. And who are we to interfere in the love lives of others, famous or not?
    
“I don’t think I have a problem,” said Wozniacki. “When you’re No. 1 and not winning everything, there’s basically just one way to go, and that’s down. I’m healthy. I feel like I’m playing well, so people can say what they want. But I have a life, and I’m happy I have a life.”
     
The problem, then, is not hers, it’s ours. Caroline Wozniacki isn’t whining. True, she isn’t winning either, but she has won, 20 tournaments and more than $14 million. And she’s known what it’s like to be at the top.
  
“Everybody wants to be No. 1,’’ Wozniacki affirmed. “No doubt about it. But right now, my focus is just trying to play well, to try and win tournaments.”
   
On the other side of the country, her boyfriend, Rory McIlroy, virtually was saying the exact same thing.