The WTA recently released a report that shouldn't have surprised anyone who has been paying attention to women's tennis in the last few years: Top players have been reneging on tournament commitments in record numbers.
Among the WTA's findings were the fact that top-10 player withdrawals from the tour's 10 most prestigious (and highest-paying) events, the Tier I tournaments, more than doubled from 13 last year to 31 in 2006. Tier I withdrawals have risen 72 percent over the last five years. This season, for the first time, none of the Tier I draws included at least six of the top 10 players that week.
Those statistics prompted WTA officials to announce they would take some as-yet-undetermined short-term measures to try to remedy the situation and implement calendar reforms in 2009, a year earlier than planned. Proposals under consideration include ending the season earlier, perhaps in late October; allowing top players to take more time off, especially after Grand Slam events; and lowering the minimum number of tournaments top players are required to enter in a season from 13 to 11.
One of the players who has had her share of no-shows this season is Kim Clijsters, who will return to action for the first time in two months next Wednesday at the Gaz de France Stars tournament in the town of Hasselt in her native Belgium. She's the defending champ at the event, beating Italy's Francesca Schiavone last year.
Clijsters' chronic left wrist injury flared up again in August, forcing her to skip the defense of her U.S. Open title, the Fed Cup finals (won by Italy in her absence) and several late-season European events. She is No. 6 in the rankings, but holds the precarious eighth and last position in the qualification standings for the WTA year-end championships in Madrid. She has a decent lead on her closest pursuer, Patty Schnyder of Switzerland, who is playing this week in Linz, Austria.
Given the current trend, Clijsters' frequent absences this season aren't unusual, but they are notable in that she has declared her intention to retire after next season at age 24. She has said her decision is based on a number of factors, including her upcoming marriage to former Villanova basketball player Brian Lynch and desire to start a family, the pursuit of an entirely different career, and the mind- and body-numbing toll of her litany of injuries.
She recovered from wrist surgery to post a brilliant comeback season in 2005, when she won nine titles and her first Grand Slam. It proved a hard act to follow. Clijsters said she was enjoying herself this year and won championships at Warsaw and Stanford, but remained firm about her decision every time she was quizzed about the WTA's plan to make things easier for players like her. Her imminent departure -- the ultimate withdrawal in a sport already reeling from them -- will rob the women's tour of one of its more appealing personalities.
Clijsters began training again in early October. If she believed in omens, she might not take the court. A few days ago, she had to take a couple of days off after bruising her tailbone when she tripped over her dog, Diesel, while playing pickup soccer with her fiancé.
"My major aim right now is to be able to play the first match without pain, and win it of course," she said on her Web diary, sounding like a much older player. "Whether or not I'll be at the (year-end championships) is not so much of a concern to me. I have said it before that it would be hard against the top players after two months of absence anyway we'll see how things go after Hasselt."
Tennis U: Research kudos to Casey Angle of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, who came up with this interesting observation: If all the ATP players, either American or foreign, who attended or graduated from a U.S. college were considered college "citizens," they'd outnumber every country but Spain in the top 200. (Spain has 20 players in the top 200; the U.S. has 19.)
No. 9 James Blake, who spent two years at Harvard, is the only college guy in the top 50, however. The rest are as follows, according to Angle:
Advance apologies to anyone inadvertently left out.
If this fictional country had a presidential election, occasional ESPN.com blogger and Stanford grad Goldstein surely would be one of the candidates. Goldstein, who reached a career-high No. 58 earlier this season, recently added to his record stash of USTA Pro Circuit titles (28), winning the singles and doubles championships in Sacramento two weeks ago. Goldstein was ousted in the first round of the ATP St. Petersburg event this week by No. 12 Mario Ancic of Croatia.
Headline of the week: "Imposible ante Federer" (Impossible against Federer), which appeared on the Web site of Fernando Gonzalez after the Chilean lost the Madrid Masters Series final 7-5, 6-1, 6-0 to the omnipotent world No. 1. Gonzalez moved up to a career-high No. 7.
Bonnie DeSimone is a freelancer who contributes frequently to ESPN.com.