Maleeva Article: Is this a goodbye to Australia???
WHAT'S in a name? In women's tennis, the answer to that is "plenty" if the name is Williams.
There was a time when the same could be said, if not nearly as loudly, of the moniker Maleeva.
Which is possibly why five photographers, a TV cameraman and a hundred or so spectators found their way yesterday to far-flung court 19 for a women's singles encounter of scant significance in the scheme of things, but which might yet be remembered as the end of an era.
Magdalena -- "call me Maggie" -- Maleeva of Bulgaria, the 24th seed, departed the tournament at the hands of Petra Mandula.
The Hungarian prevailed 6-7 (6-8) 6-2 6-3 in a match littered with so many service breaks and unforced errors that it sometimes resembled a contest to see who could choke first.
Maleeva, 29 in April, revealed afterwards that she would assess her results at the end of the year and decide whether to keep going, or join her celebrated sisters, Manuela, 37, and Katerina, 34, in retirement.
By any standards, they are one of the world's most accomplished sporting families.
At different times, they all reached the top 10; Manuela at No. 3, Maggie at 4 and Katerina at 6. They won 41 titles between them; 19, 10 and 12, respectively.
They have been to Bulgarian tennis roughly what the Chappell brothers have been to Australian cricket.
With the older pair having settled down to raise families, Maggie has been doing it on her own -- even their mum is no longer the constant presence on tour she once was -- for nearly a decade now. And that's exactly how she likes it.
Being the third sister, she said, always meant there was so much to live up to; now there's no such pressure.
She is by no means the oldest player on the tour, but it's been a long, and hard, haul.
She turned professional on her 14th birthday and won the Bulgarian title four months later, breaking Manuela's record as the youngest to do so by three months. So she has been at it for more than half her life.
Given that her best is clearly some way behind her, you have to wonder why. There are two answers, the first of which could have been a Steve Waugh quote. "I have always believed I can improve," she said.
The other is that it's all a bonus now. Four years ago, she was out of the game for a prolonged period after serious shoulder surgery and feared she would never make it back.
She did, and lists that as the biggest achievement of not only her tennis career but her life.
"It was a challenge," she said. "I wanted to have a second career and see how far I could go. I never believed I could come back and get so close to the top 10. (She was ranked 14 at the end of 2002.)
"I had so many injuries that in the end I just told myself I don't want to be injured any more, and since then I haven't been." There's a name for that, too. It's called the power of positive thinking -- and it's kept a famous family flag flying.
For me, it depends on the saeson she will have. I hope she plays in 2005, too. Then Karatancheva and Pironkova wouldn┤t have that much trouble to fill the gap Maggie will produce when she retires!
Magdalena Maleeva's last words at her send-off:
"There is a saying that there is no friendship in tennis, but I've proven the opposite. After all of them are here, it means that there is friendship and I want to thank them for being here tonight. I hope the fans are happy too."
My blog about my semester spent in China (bilingual in both German and English):
http://crazillo.jimdo.com! Please feel free to make comments!!