Lleyton Hewitt has confirmed that he will compete in Australia’s Davis Cup Asia Oceania second-round tie against Japan in Brisbane. The tie will be played May 5-7 on a specially built clay court, with the winner advancing to the World Group playoffs in September. Hip surgery prevented the 29-year old from playing last month against Chinese Taipei, but Australia still was able to advance with a 5-0 victory.

Hewitt has struggled since making his comeback from surgery, taking three sets to beat 116th-ranked Somdev Devvarman before losing to Juan Ignacio Chela at the US Clay Court Championships in Houston, and then in Barcelona he fell to 59th-ranked Eduardo Schwank in Barcelona.

However, he did partner Mark Knowles to the doubles final there. ''I think it is a mighty effort for Lleyton to make it back," said team captain John Fitzgerald. "It speaks volumes about his commitment to Australia and to Davis Cup that he has put such a focus on playing this tie and getting us back into the World Group. He has shown terrific recuperative powers and has obviously put in a lot of work. He will be a major weapon for us on the clay.''

The remainder of the team is still to be determined, with as many as six players in contention for a place.
 
The pressure is off Roger Federer this year as he begins his clay court season at the Rome Masters. In previous seasons the talk always revolved around whether he could ever win Roland Garros, the only major title to elude him. But his victory over Robin Soderling in last year’s final got that monkey off his back and allowed him to begin his 2010 bid for the title in a more relaxed frame of mind.

"Questions are already very different," he said in Rome, where he will begin against Marcos Baghdatis or Ernests Gulbis. "It doesn't start off with, 'Oh, are you going to win the French Open this year?' So it's just a bit more relaxing. I also got a lot of confidence from winning the French Open last year. You feel like if you can do it once you can do it twice."

Not that he considers himself the favorite. That position, he says, goes to his arch rival Rafael Nadal, who last year arrived in Paris exhausted after winning three titles and reaching the final of a fourth event. Knee problems also hindered his campaign and led to him missing the entire grass court season. This year, to better prepare, the Spaniard withdrew from last week’s Barcelona Open.

"I would love to say I'm the big favorite but I don't think it's quite right, even though I won the French Open last year," said Federer. "He's been on an absolute tear (on clay) for the last five years. He's hardly lost any matches. You can almost count them on one hand. And he's only lost one match at the French Open, so I would think he's still the favorite," Federer said.
 
A Big Competition on European Grass Courts is Approaching

One of the most intriguing rivalry battles each year is not a clash between two marquee Grand Slam champions. Instead it is tussle between the traditional British tournament at London’s Queen’s Club and the now established German event at Halle to lure the top players for their first taste of grass court play immediately after the French Open. Queen’s Club, now home to the AEGON Championships, has always prided itself on having the upper hand and can point back to a star studded list of former champions that extends all the way to 1969 and includes Wimbledon winners Rod Laver, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Michael Stich, Pete Sampras, Lleyton Hewitt and Rafael Nadal Add Ilie Nastase, Ivan Lendl, Andy Roddick and last year’s champion Andy Murray and it makes an impressive honour board. Halle, first played as the Gerry Weber Open in 1993 and still a force under the same sponsorship banner, can point to just two Wimbledon winners in a list of champions; Stich and the name which appears no fewer than five times and really rankles in West London, Roger Federer. This year Halle has a slightly bigger prize fund of 663,750 Euros compared to the £ sterling equivalent at the AEGON Championships 627, 700 Euros and a lead in total financial commitment of more than 36,000 Euros.  But the bonus of being in London, just a 15 minutes drive away from the All England Club, still certainly seems to hold sway and this year Chris Kermode, tournament director of the Queen’s event, will be rolling out the red carpet for the majority of the world’s leading contestants.  World no.2 Novak Djokovic has committed to returning to Queens after playing Halle last year, third ranked Rafael Nadal was unable to defend his title a year ago but is down to play this time. Fitness permitting US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro will make his debut and four-time winner Andy Roddick is looking to make it five. Now Jo Wilfried Tsonga and Fernando Verdasco, and World No.11 Marin Cilic have added their names meaning seven of the world’s Top 11 players have already said that they will play. It is assumed Murray will follow shortly.
 

Tsonga can recall eliminating four-time champion Lleyton Hewitt on his debut in 2007 and it is a memory he will not forget in a hurry.  "It will be interesting to see how it goes for me at the AEGON Championships and at Wimbledon because grass is a good surface for me,” said the Frenchman. “I feel very confident and comfortable and can play quite well on grass. ”

 

“I like The Queen's Club as I had some breakthrough results there three years ago, qualifying for the tournament and then beating Lleyton Hewitt. There are many people coming to the tournament, and the bigger the crowd, the better I usually play."

 

Cilic enjoyed a similar experience in 2007, beating Britain’s Tim Henman in the opening round before going on to reach the quarterfinals. The 21-year-old Croatian made his Grand Slam breakthrough this year, beating Del Potro and Roddick in successive five-set matches to reach the semifinals. Standing at 6’5” and coached by Bob Brett, who has worked with Goran Ivanisevic and Boris Becker, Cilic has become one of the most dangerous opponents in the world. He also likes grass.

 

“I showed that I can play really well on the surface in 2007,” said the Croat. “My first ever match on the grass was at The Queen’s Club, and I beat Tim Henman. It was really nice to play on the Centre Court in front of a full stadium, and I played one of the best matches of my career to win. I believe I can play my very best tennis on grass and win a lot of matches. I hope one day I can be in a position to win a Grand Slam title, and I would love for it to be at Wimbledon on grass.”

 

Verdasco is a man in form after reaching the Monte Carlo final last week to break into the World’s Top Ten and he is another returning to Queen’s Cub after playing Halle last year. “Suffice to say, we are very happy with the entry list this year,” said tournament director Kermode.

 

Halle have announced Federer will return after missing last year while Robin Soderling and Nikolay Davydenko, if recovered from his wrist injury will also play. Long time Queen’s Club diehard Hewitt is switching tournaments to play in Germany this year as is last year’s AEGON Championships runner up James Blake.

 
 
Marc Wickmayer, Yanina’s father, is not making things easier for his daughter, as he recently criticised the decision of Justine Henin to be part of the Fed Cup team this week-end against Estonia. “What has Justine done to help Belgium’s Fed Cup team the last few years? Nothing. In the 2006 final (against Italy) she could have won on one leg along with Kirsten Flipkens. Instead, she chose to pull out for a small injury. So now why does she want to play. Because the tie is taking place in Belgium? To raise her popularity in Flanders (the Flemish part of Belgium)?  If she is still willing to be part of the team next year when it will be time to play away, in Russia or in the Czech Republic, then I would apologize to her. Yet what I don’t like is the hypocrisy which revolves around this tie.” But his daughter showed much more diplomacy and conciliation. “The most important is that Belgium wins the tie. I really don’t want to impose myself. There is a captain to choose who plays and who doesn’t” she said.  The order of play for tomorrow has just been released. Henin has not been chosen for singles. It's Clijsters and Wickmayer who will be playing.
 
The busiest man on Belgium’s Fed Cup team last weekend was physiotherapist Sam Verslegers after US Open champion Kim Clijsters suffered a foot injury which endangers her participation in next month’s French Open and former world no.1 Justine Henin broke a bone in the little finger of her left hand.

Initial prognosis suggests Clijsters could be sidelined for six weeks after injuring sesamoid bones in her left big toe, which would mean a no show at Roland Garros which begins on May 23.

Henin, who only uses her left hand to toss up the ball, was fit enough to play the reverse singles against Estonia in Hasselt and is expected to take her place in the draw for this week’s Porsche Grand Prix WTA Tour event in Stuttgart where she is unseeded but handed a wild card and could face compatriot Yanina Wickmayer in the second round.

Clijsters was hurt stretching for a ball in her 6-4 6-2 win over Maret Ani on Saturday. She suffered a muscle rupture midway through the second set but didn’t appreciate the extent of the injury and persevered to round out the victory.  The pain intensified afterwards she was taken to hospital went to the hospital, where an MRI scan revealed there was bruising of bones in her left foot.

Back up to 11th on the WTA Tour world rankings following her win at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami, Clijsters is now Belgium’s top ranked player after moving ahead of Wickmayer. But the news is the first major set-back of the 26 year-old’s comeback after deciding to quit the sport in 2007 because of a succession of injuries.

She is not optimistic about the immediate future. “When the doctor tells you six weeks, then you start panicking,” said Clijsters who is currently walking with the aid of crutches. “You think of your season’s planning.”

Verslegers is barely more optimistic and said: "Roland-Garros? Kim might be fit in time but we won't be taking any risks. We'll be working to return a step at a time so right now it's difficult to put a timeline on when she will return to action."

When Henin was selected for the team several weeks previously, her team ethic was criticized by Marc Wickmayer, father of the youngest member of Belgium’s trio of leading players. But she stepped forward to play 124th ranked Kaia Kanepi and lost a tight encounter 6-7, 6-4, 6-3.

Belgium captain Sabine Appelmans described how Henin received her injury. "She was at the net and the ball came over and she didn't know whether to volley it. Instead, she took it with her hand and broke her finger."

The Belgians won the World Group play-off tie played at the Grenslandhallen-Ethias Arena 3-2 thanks to two singles wins from Wickmayer and Clijster’s heroic victory against Ani.
 
Wimbledon will go through the £million mark for the first time in 2010 with the men’s and ladies singles champions walking away with a seven figured winners’ check for the first time in history.

Total prize money for the Championships will rise to $21 million this year, an increase of $1.75 million on 2009. And the singles champions will each receive $1.54 million, an increase of $225,000 from last year.

Tim Phillips, in his last year as Chairman of the All England Club and the Wimbledon Championships before handing over to Phil Brook in December, proudly announced: “Prize money here has doubled in the last ten years.

Wimbledon exists in a highly competitive market place and it is the world’s best players who create and drive the interest. It is important that we offer a level of prize money which is both appropriate to the prestige of the event and which the players full and fair reward.”

Wimbledon is now financially on a par with the US Open which last year paid $1.25 million to singles champions Juan Martin Del Potro and Kim Clijsters. Phillips maintained the differential in interest rates compared to previous Championships, a drop of 20% to 25% against both the US dollar and Euro, was integral to the All England Club’s thinking.

“We need to offer prize money that is commensurate to the prestige of the Championships and the international market,” insisted Phillips. “Sterling has steeply fallen against the dollar and the euro in the past three years so our increases are slightly larger than they might have been to reflect that factor. Players are what this tournament is all about and we need to fairly reward their phenomenal effort.”

This year’s singles finalists will each have $770,000 to help them through their disappointment while first round losers will pocket $16,800, an increase of just 4.7% from the 2009 figure compared to the 17.6% increase for both the winners and finalists up. Men’s and Ladies Doubles champions will get $360,000 a pair while the Mixed Doubles champions will split $138,000.

However Wimbledon’s income will be slightly decreased this year because the newly built No.3 Court, positioned on the site of the old Graveyard of Champions, will not be ready for competition until 2011.

This year, the daily ground capacity will be reduced by 2,500 from 40,000 to 37,500. This will lead to a reduction in ground tickets for sale each day and therefore a lower overall attendance.

But the All England Club has struck new five-year deals with two of their major suppliers. Hertz will be responsible for the players and officials’ car transport for another five years while Robinsons, celebrating their 75th anniversary of having their soft drinks on the umpires’ chairs, have signed a new five year agreement.
 
The US Fed Cup team rallied to defeat Russia, 3-2, in the 2010 Fed Cup semifinals Sunday in Birmingham and earned the right to host defending champion Italy in the Fed Cup Final, Nov. 6-7 at a site to be determined by the USTA.  It is the first time that the US will host the Fed Cup Final since 2000, which is also the last year the U.S. won the event.

Bethanie Mattek-Sands became the first American to win consecutive rubbers on the final day to lead the U.S. to victory.  With the U.S. trailing 1-2, Mattek-Sands defeated Ekaterina Makarova, 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 then teamed with Liezel Huber to defeat Elena Dementieva and Alla Kudryavtseva in the decisive doubles rubber, 6-3, 6-1.  Melanie Oudin defeated Kudryavtseva Saturday in the opening rubber to give the U.S a 1-0 lead.

The USTA will select the site for the 2010 Fed Cup Final with plans to announce the venue in mid-June, pending approval from the ITF. Information about the bid process and an RFP can be found at
www.usta.com/fedcup.  Parties interested in bidding to host the 2010 Fed Cup final should submit a letter of intent to the USTA by May 17.  The deadline for submitting a final bid to the USTA is June 4. 
 
3d. Stretching before and after each workout can go a long way in helping you to avoid injuries.
 
 3c. It is important to start slow and to increase at reasonable rate.  One doesn’t want to sustain an injury before tennis season begins.  If you are strength training or working out a t a gym, you might want to consult with a personal trainer.  See or he may be able to devise a plan that meets your needs with the least amount of risk.
 
The 1987 Wimbledon champion Pat Cash still entertains tennis fans with his serve-and-volley skills on the ATP Champions Tour, his commentary on BBC television and radio and his Wimbledon podcast 'Tarango and Cash' which he presents with Jeff Tarango.

Last month he began presenting a new, monthly tennis show on CNN, called 'Open Court'. So far, Cash has interviewed the Bryan Brothers, re-enacted his climb into the Wimbledon players' box after taking the title, and shown how a tennis racquet is made.