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Last month Roddick announced that he was retaining an unlikely aide-de-camp to help restore his for-real lost mojo: Jimmy Connors, who'd never shown any interest in coaching. Seen as an act of desperation by some, in truth it's not so odd. Connors's strengths-his backhand, court coverage and return of serve-are Roddick's weaknesses. The partnership got off to a promising start with a win on Sunday in Cincinnati, but the acid test will be the Open. If nothing else, it'll be refreshing to see Connors in some context other than his '91 Open defeat of Aaron Krickstein, a match replayed ad nauseum during rain delays.
4 Let's Go to The Videotape
FOR A sport thought to be stuck in another century-the 19th-tennis has taken a bold step forward with the introduction of replay technology. Much like the NFL's challenge system, but without the cloak-and-dagger secrecy, it will be unveiled for the first time in a major at the 2006 Open.
Players get two incorrect challenges per set and unlimited successful ones. When they dispute a call, the chair ump halts play and the shot is shown on the stadium video screen. Available now on only the top two courts, the system uses a network of cameras that track the ball's descent within millimeters to show exactly where a shot landed. Fans eat it up, and the players can focus on the next point without a feeling that they wuz robbed. The only downside? We may end up missing the yelling and carrying on over missed calls. What if our enduring memory of John McEnroe were not of a vintage tirade, but a demure request for a replay?
5 From Nervous To Impervious
WERE YOU seeking proof that tennis is as much a mental challenge as a physical one, the career of Am�lie Mauresmo was, until recently, the best evidence. The strapping Frenchwoman was not only an exceptional athlete but also a tennis stylist whose attacking game was easy on the eyes. Only problem: When the match tightened, so did she. With the predictability of time and tide, Mauresmo would reach the latter rounds of big events only to buckle under the weight of the occasion. Last January, she finally broke through, winning her first career major, in Australia. Even then, of course, she was spared the pressure of actually having to close out the match when Justine Henin-Hardenne retired in the second set. But at Wimbledon, Mauresmo convincingly drove a stake through her demons, rallying from a set down and then serving a brilliant final game to defeat Henin-Hardenne again. "I don't want anybody to talk about my nerves anymore!" she said later. A Heimlich candidate no longer, Mauresmo, 27, is suddenly a good bet to win her third Grand Slam of 2006.
6 Comeback Time For the Williamses?
EITHER VENUS or Serena Williams won the U.S. Open every year from 1999 to 2002, and twice during that time they played each other in the final. Contrast this to their state today: Venus hasn't won a tournament all year, and Serena has fallen even further-she had to win four matches in L.A. earlier this month just to reenter the top 100. Critics assert that the sisters' side interests (fashion, acting) have exacted a price on their tennis. Supporters contend that they've just been injured. Will a Williams win for a fifth time? Doubtful. But you'd be hard-pressed to find two players better able to shake the rust off their games in a hurry.
7 So Graceful, Yet So Graceless
NOW THAT Lleyton Hewitt has married, mellowed and-perhaps not coincidentally-lost his edge, tennis's black cloud now perpetually hovers over Justine Henin-Hardenne. There's plenty to admire about the Belgian, from her versatile and comprehensive game to her immunity to pressure. Yet the self-absorption, pluck and ambition that have made her an elite player can also conspire against her. A five-time major winner, she has a knack for controversy that she exacerbates with clumsy p.r. One example: Trailing badly, she quit during the 2006 Australian Open final, citing stomach pains, then scarcely acknowledged winner Am�lie Mauresmo in her runner-up speech. "I had a lot of respect for the champion she is," says Mauresmo, "but I don't feel this behavior is a champion's behavior." At the Open, where every faux pas is elevated to a felony, the smart money says Henin-Hardenne becomes a cause c�l�bre.