Martin Rogers

The Monday Slice: Clijsters to the rescue

Busted Racquet

FIRST SERVE

Kim Clijsters' return to professional tennis could be just what is needed to inject a bit of life into the slumbering women's game.

When the race for the top spot in the rankings tightened up last year, so much so that any one of six women could have reached No. 1 heading into the U.S Open, it seemed that an exciting new era of ultra-competitiveness was beckoning.

However, since then, most of the leading players - with the exception of the Williams sisters and Vera Zvonareva - have suffered from catastrophic dips in form and been on the receiving end of repeated shocking defeats.

Clijsters may not be able to immediately get back to the physical peak of her 2005 U.S Open triumph, but she is a gamer, a fierce competitor who wouldn't be returning unless she believed she could challenge.

Her acceptance of a wild-card entry into Cincinnati, Toronto and the Open will help invigorate the North American hardcourt season and shake things up at the top.

While Jelena Jankovic, Dinara Safina and Ana Ivanovic may, for now at least, have more gas in the tank than the popular Belgian, they could all learn a lot from the stellar attitude and professionalism of Clijsters.


DROP SHOT

James Blake's steady slide down the rankings could continue when the latest list comes out next week. Blake has dropped to No. 14 and is likely to slip another couple of spots after failing to repeat last year's quarterfinal performance in Miami. He lost this time to Tomas Berdych in round three.

USE YOUR FREQUENT FLYER MILES

Any tennis fan worth his salt will be hopping on a plane to Florida this week, as the self-styled "Fifth Slam" enters the business end of the tournament. It's the last time the men's and women's tours will see hard courts until July, as clay court season kicks into gear next week.

CLEAN WINNER

Australia's Samantha Stosur is best known for her doubles achievements, with three Grand Slam titles to her name. This year she is making a determined effort to boost her singles performances, and is likely to leap up the rankings after a crushing 6-1, 6-4 victory over world No. 2 Dinara Safina in Miami.

THIS WEEK'S PREDICTIONS

The Monday Slice picked Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams a week ago and there seems no reason to shift gears now. Nadal is on a collision course for a tricky potential semifinal against Andy Murray, while Williams' biggest test may be a clash with big sister Venus in the last four.

Sony Ericsson Open, Miami: Rafael Nadal
Sony Ericsson Open, Miami: Serena Williams

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