Will we see Mark in Melbourne? Tennis Australia’s team playoffs for wildcards into the Australian Open begins next week. As of right now Mark has not entered, but there is a potential for a last minute entry.
It’s been an interesting holiday week for Mark fans and time for a new present – Mark set to return to tennis. Mark held a press conference on December 22nd, early speculation thought he was to announce his retirement, but instead, he announced that he’d be playing in Melbourne next month. Sadly it won’t be in the Australian Open itself, but rather the Legends tournament held afterwards. He’ll be teaming up with French tennis great Henri Leconte for doubles. After that he hopes to play on the challenger circuit and eventually be ready for the main tour and Davis Cup. In a rare moment of honesty, he admitted to wanting an Australian Open wildcard but didn’t apply for it because he knew it would be a waste of the slot a she’d likely be out in the first round. Mark has not played on the main ATP circuit for two years and is currently battling back from his fifth knee surgery. While reporters didn’t see him play, he says he’s still working his way back, physically Mark appears to be much lighter than in the past (a boon to his knees I’m sure). What’s unclear is Mark’s participation in the World Tennis Challenge the week prior to the Australian Open. He’s scheduled to compete with Pat Cash at the exhibition tournament. However some articles indicate he’s pulled out due to the knee not being ready while others indicate he’s still playing.
Unfortunately it’s no surprise that Mark won’t be competing in Arizona. Apparently Mark is still rehabing the knee and had to withdrawl. Mark’s next scheduled tournament is in Adelaide in January 2010.
In news that is somehow depressingly familar to fans, Mark has pulled out of the Charlotte tournament. Even worse, it’s knee related – it’s not fully recovered yet. The tournament quoted Mark saying, “I am disappointed that I am not quite ready to compete in Charlotte. My doctor tells me I will be ready to go for the Stanford Championships in Dallas next month and I can’t wait to step on the court there.”
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.