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Meet The Press: Players Talk Tennis In Acura All-Access Hour

Photo By Fred Mullane By Brad Falkner

Table tennis took place at the Acura Classic in San Diego yesterday. Prior to taking the court at the $1 million tournament, the top eight seeds — with the exception of top-ranked Serena Williams, who withdrew from the event — visited the media center for a round table discussion with reporters.

The players were relaxed and responsive during the one-hour interview session as they talked tennis and answered a wide-ranging array of questions from one of the largest media contingents in the tournament's 20-year history.

Based on the reactions of the both the players and the media it would appear that new WTA Tour CEO Larry Scott has implemented a successful program that aims to bridge the gap between the players and the media.

"I think it was a very good thing and it was great that the WTA Tour started this new system," second-ranked Kim Clijsters said. "It was great that people could ask questions about the previous tournament and it was great too for the media to be able to see how everyone is feeling a few weeks before a big Grand Slam tournament like the U.S. Open."

Jennifer Capriati, Lindsay Davenport, Justine Henin-Hardenne, Daniela Hantuchova Chanda Rubin, Ai Sugiyama and Clijsters were all present and in good spirits during the interviews. Here are some of the highlights of the roundtable session.

Justine Henin-Hardenne, who won her first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros and followed it with a Wimbledon semifinal appearance, revealed she spent time watching the videotapes of her triumphant French Open fortnight. The elation, excitement and feeling of fulfillment Henin-Hardenne felt after Paris is something she hopes to experience again at another Slam.

"My dream was to always win the French Open, that's for sure because it was the first one that I went to and it was close to home," Henin-Hardenne said. "After I won the tournament I was home alone and I was able watch my matches because my husband was at the office working. I want to feel what I felt after winning the French Open. I especially want to feel this at other Grand Slam tournaments. I have to keep working hard hard if I want to win more Slams, because only a few players have the chance to win Grand slams, the competition is that tough."

Wimbledon quarterfinalist Lindsay Davenport has been bothered by a foot injury that has limited her preparation for this tournament and altered her expectations when she enters events.

"It’s been tough," Davenport said. "I have not been able to practice and prepare 100 percent the way I want to. I'm optimistic that I can do well (at the U.S. Open). It's inevitable that your game stops improving at a certain time in your career — Agassi might be the rare exception where he keeps trying to get better and better — but I think you have to come to grips with that in your career. You always have to have that hope, you always have to have that belief that you know where you are at. It's clear going into tournaments that I'm not the favorite or one of the top three anymore. I don't think anyone likes it. When you're playing well and your game is there, you like to be No. 1 or No. 2 in the world."

The 27-year-old Laguna Beach, California resident married Jonathan Leach before Roland Garros and while Davenport has contemplated life after her tennis career concludes, she said she's not ready to call it quits quite yet.

"Obviously, I think about the second phase of my life and what I would do," Davenport said. "But I'm certainly not ready to throw in the towel yet. My life is still 100 percent focused on tennis and practicing and playing these tournaments. I've never been a fan farewell tours or 'this is my last year or last tournament.' I think you make that decision when it hits you, after you're away from the game a little bit."

A year ago, Daniela Hantuchova produced a breakthrough season, winning her first WTA Tour title at Indian Wells with victories over Justine Henin-Hardenne and Martina Hingis in the final. Hantuchova advanced to the quarterfinals of Wimbledon and the U.S. Open and led the Slovak Republic to its first Fed Cup championship in history.

The player with a promising future has struggled to sustain her success this season and has been bombarded with questions about her feet and allegations that she suffers from an eating disorder. The slender Slovak said her greatest challenge has been mental rather than physical.

"Physically I feel fine," Hantuchova said. "I have played a lot of three-set matches lately and I always feel fine physically afterwards. My friends and people around me know that I have always been like this. I can eat whatever I want and I can’t gain weight. Right now, my problem is more mental than physical. I am unable to play in my matches like I do in my practices."

At the 2002 Acura Classic, Hantuchova incurred a point penalty on match point for her second time violation to hand the second-round victory to Ai Sugiyama. The pair reached the doubles final together. Sugiyama, who beat current doubles partner Kim Clijsters to win Scottsdale in the spring, is playing some of the best tennis of her career in rising to a career-high rank of No. 11.

"I am playing my best tennis right now," Sugiyama said. "I got to the fourth round at the French Open and at Wimbledon. This is my highest ranking and I am looking forward to playing well at the U.S. Open where I have not done well in the past. It’s strange because hard court is my favorite surface. My goal is to qualify for the year-end Championships."

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Nice! They should do this more often to get more people interested in the game.
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