The news is out and it’s all bad. Mark’s withdrawl from the Open play-offs with knee pain turned out to be what we all feared – an MRI revealed a cartilage tear in his right knee. Yes, the same knee that broke down last January. What’s sobering this time around is there’s no talk of “I’ll be back soon,” but instead Mark had this to say “I’m just going to be thinking about spending time with my family, spending time at home and then assessing things — you know, where life will lead me and what direction I want to take in life and whether I’ll be going again.”
Another day of mixed messages for Mark fans. First the good news, Mark made it through the to the quarterfinals and is still in the mix for the wildcard. The bad news is how he made it – the luck of mathematics. Mark was supposed to play his third round robin match today that was strictly practice because of Jones withdrawal, but he withdrew from the match because of swelling in the lateral meniscus in his right knee. The math comes in because to determine what two players advanced from Group A meant divided the number of games won by games played. It came down to Groth at .622, Mark at .615 and Klein .600, thus both Mark and Groth advanced. While the math is not the greatest way to advance, the really bad part is the knee swelling. Two matches and the knee causes problems? One can only hope that more play will help and not hurt.
It’s been an up and down two days for Mark in his quest for a wilcard. On the 15th he began by facing off against Brydan Klein after a seven hour rain dely. Brydan’s the reigning Australian Open junior champion and at 17 is a face of the future of Australian Tennis. Mark managed to show that age still has staying power by defeating him 6-3, 7-5, a good solid start. Unfortunately today the down happened as Mark lost 4-6, 3-6 to Samuel Groth, 20, who’s ranked 341. Not something to show the officials he’s back to take on the main tour players. But thanks to Lady Luck, Mark is still alive for the wildcard slot as it’s a round robin format and his next opponent Alun Jones had to withdraw to injury. Mark will play his replacement and still has a chance to make the quarter-finals where it’s back to elimination format. Reports from the event however are not encouraging as Mark is playing with a knee bandage and is showing only limited movement. We can only hope he’s just warming it all up slowly. If Mark doesn’t win the wildcard he still has a hope to show Tennis Australia that he’s playing well enough to get one of the remaining discretionary wildcards (which can go to players from all over the world, not just the Australian one he’s playing for now). Also Mark appears to have new management – Ice Edge Marketing and Rob Aivatoglou (familar to Aussie fans as Hewitt’s former management). Aivatoglou says that the plan for the upcoming weeks is to get a wildcard for the Adelaide International, skip Sydney and then off to the Australian Open where Mark will play qualies if he doesn’t get a wildcard.
Mark has made his first official commitment to his tennis comeback, agreeing to take part in the Tennis Australia playoffs for the wildcard into the Australian Open. The even runs Dec 15th-21st and will put Mark against players 10 years younger. Mark says he’s been training, though critics wonder if he’s done enough to survive the long matches in brutal heat that the Aussie Open is known to produce. But Mark cannot look too far ahead at this point, he must first produce some very convincing results in the play-offs. Hopefully Mark will be helped by the new Plexicushion courts installed in Melbourne. The courts replace the old Rebound Ace surface and the thinnger layer of rubber is supposed to retain less heat which will reduce courtside temperatures. The Open begins on January 14th.