Saturday, May 31, 2008

Going to miss Egypt

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Someone in the neighbourhood is playing some hardcore Umm Kulthum. Yum.

I've been on the computer for ages, and now I'm pretty dehydrated.

Sad to think that I only have six weeks to go in Egypt.
Thank you to Cairo, the crazy city in which I effortlessly lived the life I want.
Thank you to the boys and men of Egypt for being so lovely to look at.
Thank you to the people for being so sweet and warm and kind and human.
Thank you to my neighbour for leaving the internet on most of the time. I wish the signal was stronger so I could watch live streaming of tennis.

I won't miss: the cigarette smoke. Here is a country that clearly does not believe in lung cancer. 80% of people in a typical social gathering smoke. Most of them smoke continuously. I learned to stop socializing after my second party in Egypt because it's sheer misery trying to find oxygen.

I would propose: Culinary Arts. Learn from the Maghreb, the Levant, Nigeria: Feast daily and be not afraid of spices and sauces.

Speaking of the arts: Cairo is cosmopolitan. It doesn't live pure old art; it has fusion instead with every influence imaginable - from Arab and Pharaonic to Turkish, French and American. It is the city of floating, yuppie restaurants and the hip, if adulterated, Egyptian-Arabic dialect after all.

Whereas most people would prefer Cairo to Sana'a, my heart won't let me forget...Sana'a made me drunk with a place-love that maybe will never be matched.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Not retired, but burnt out

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Source: MensTennisForums.com, translated from Richard Gasquet interview with l'Equipe.

Richard Gasquet, severely defeated by Seppi don’t want to hear about tennis anymore. But he hopes he will play Roland-Garros.Already beaten by Querrey (Monte Carlo) and Horna (Rome) Richard Gasquet suffered a new harsh setback against Andreas Seppi. More about the style, of an infinite sadness than about the substance. Amorphous, passive, lacking of inspiration, he allowed the Italian to shine without much efforts. (27 winners) “How long it lasted? One hour? Woouah, that’s not bad…” Richard said making fun of himself before delivering his states to mind in all sincerity.

Did you feel it was a remake of your defeat in Rome?
No. Here, at least I fought. With my means, which were poor though. But there is just one word to summarize the situation: I am totally burn out. I haven’t recovered from last year’s efforts. I felt it would happen. I pay them off now. I am totally in the red. Some players, like Nadal or Djokovic, can do it, I don’t, it’s hard for me to follow on.

When you say “burn out”, do you mean physically or mentally?
Both. I have trouble to make efforts during practices, during matches. Physically, I don’t hold on. The mental is follows the same decline. I am not able to play tennis.

Concretely, how do you feel on the court?
Running, moving, everything becomes difficult. I have no energy, the strokes don’t head off, the ball doesn’t come out of the racket. I feel I am strung out. Less in the head for that matter than in the legs. But both go together certainly.

You have no desire to be on the court?
At Rome, not really but today, I had desire. I was there. But the first set didn’t work in my favour… That being said, it’s not easy to take pleasure when you are like this.

What is the solution to your problems?
I am going to have a break from tennis during a week. It won’t hurt me to forget the racket a bit.But, there is an important tournament coming..For Roland-Garros, we will see. Don’t expect a good tournament from me. If there is one..

Do you consider not playing Roland- Garros?
I don’t consider anything. Now, I am going to leave the racket for a week. Then, I will go back to training and we will see then. It’s been almost 2 years I haven’t got some break. I miss it. I have troubles to overdo it. Imagine I do this in Roland-Garros.. it won’t be pleasant for anyone…

But could you totally skip Roland-Garros?
There is a possibility. But a tiny one.

“Taking a break”, what does it mean? Going far away from France?
I don’t know. I am going to try to take some rest, to recharge my batteries. I have to find energy back. Today, that’s what I am missing the most. Well, there is still 2 weeks left before RG. It gives me time. It’s clear I won’t come here really in very good shape. But who knows what can happen…

So, do you give up the idea of playing Casablanca?
Yes. No tournament for me next week. Anyway, at the moment, I can lose to anyone. Eric thinks the same. I don’t accept the defeat but the facts are there.

Do you think, you shouldn’t have come here?
No, I don’t think so. Because now, I really know what my problem is. And I am sure about my diagnosis. It’s easy to draw a conclusion: I have to say stop. I have no other choices. I will take the racket back only when I will want it.

Even if it’s only one day before Roland-Garros?
Nothing is ruled out.

Good luck, Richard.

Retired, not retiring

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Searching for answers on heels of Henin's stunning retirement
Source : Inside Tennis on Sports Illustrated
Story Highlights
* Henin's play thus far in 2008 foreshadowed her announcement
* Hard to determine how much personal drama impacted decision
* Serena, Sharapova among favorites to win French Open

In the wake of the news that Justine Henin is retiring, SI.com caught up with tennis writer Jon Wertheim to get his reaction.

Q: What do you make of today's announcement?

JW: It is, at once, stunning and not all that surprising. Any time the top-ranked player -- who's 25 years old and the three-time defending champion of the next Grand Slam -- abruptly retires, it's obviously a bombshell announcement. At the same time, Henin has really struggled this year. She's shown very little resemblance to the player who dominated the second half of 2007. She's never been motivated by the trappings of celebrity. I think in her mind, if she's not winning or playing to her expectations, there's little incentive to continue on.

Q: What's happened to her this year?

JW: You know, something just seems to have gone out of her. For as much as people rave, rightfully so, about her one-handed slingshot backhand or her well-rounded game, I always thought her biggest asset was her guts. She was just such a courageous player. Yet this year, she wasn't just losing but she was playing with a noticeable absence of fire and confidence. Most recently I saw her get blown off the court by Serena Williams in Key Biscayne. The score was 6-2, 6-0 and it wasn't that close. In the postmatch interview, Henin owned up to a lack of courage. I thought this was a stunning admission from her. Particularly given the opponent.

Q: Is it mental or physical?

JW: I think in sports today, it's increasingly hard to divorce the two. Tennis can be an excruciating sport mentally; all the more so when you're rehabbing injuries or favoring certain muscles or worrying about rationing your energy. It's easy to see how a player such as Henin, who has been curtailing her schedule for years now and has battled all manner of injury and ailment, just a reached a point where enough was enough.

Q: This is a player who had a childhood filled with tragedy, who missed last year Australian's Open because of her divorce, who recently reunited with her family. How much do you sense the personal drama has impacted this decision?

JW: Her coach, Carlos Rodriguez, said repeatedly last year that he had never seen his protégé so content and so happy, and it translated to her success on the court. So who knows? I think there's a temptation to play pop psychologist and say that either her personal drama exacted an inevitable price on her game. Or else, the perspective she's picked up having to endure so much personal hardship has diminished the importance of tennis. But honestly, who knows?

Q: What does the WTA Tour do about this?

JW: Well, this has been a rough stretch for the women's game. Kim Clijsters, a recent No.1 player, retired roughly a year ago. Barely six months ago, Martina Hingis retired. After years of inactivity, Monica Seles officially retired in February. But this is different. Here, we're talking about the No.1 player in the world who, notionally anyway, should be in the prime of her career. The good thing about tennis -- sports in general, I suppose -- is that there's always another athlete ready to fill a void. But, yes, this is a real loss for the WTA.

Q: Will we see her again?

JW: Tennis is starting to rival boxing in terms of comebacks. It's the rare player who stays "retired" these days. When Lindsay Davenport can retire, have a child and then return, it speaks volumes about: a) just how addictive competition can be and b) how possible it is for the top players to return to prominence in a short period of time. Again, Henin is an interesting case because she's always had such unique motivations and rhythms. But it's very easy to envision her taking even a year or two off, returning at age 26 or 27, and resuming her success.

Q: With Henin out of the picture, who do you see winning the French Open in a couple of weeks?

JW: That's one of the ironies. Even given her dismal year, Henin would have likely been the favorite. It's hard to bet against a three-time defending champ. As it stands, the field is wide open. Serena and Maria Sharapova are both obviously strong picks but neither is at her best on clay. Dinara Safina won in Germany last weekend -- beating both Henin and Serena -- but she has a modest track record at Majors. Last year's losing finalist, Ana Ivanovic, is a credible pick and so is Jelena Jankovic. But, really, this field is up for grabs now.


Bon chance Justine, et felicitations.
I like this story 'cos I am retired too.

Two days later, in her own words
Source
16/05/2008: This past Wednesday May 14 at 16:00 hrs Justine held a press conference at her tennis club (Club Justine N1). In a packed room Justine took the microphone and bared her heart - serene, happy with conviction.

It's a great day in my life, I believe that you can call it that. I'm here today to announce to you that I am putting a definitive end to my tennis career. I know that it is a shock for many people and a surprise, but for me it's decision I've thought about for sometime now. It is not a decision which I made because of a simple defeat in Berlin. I've thought about it in my head for sometime, for a few months already, since the latter month of 2007. It's an end to a beautiful adventure.

Perhaps, people will think that I am still young, but there are no rules. I invested enormously in my sport, since the age of five. I always lived for tennis, and it's without regret because I lived emotions which I will never forget. Images engraved in my heart and my memory, and I am sure it's in the heart and the memory of many of you too. Today a page has turned.

I don't feel sadness, but rather a delivery, a relief, a glance towards the future. I always seek to build and change, and not only by tennis. I believe that tennis gave me many beautiful things, but I want to do it by returning to the essentials. I based my life on the relationships, the love and all that I could give to tennis. But I couldn't manage to express it anymore these past months. I thought about it alot. I made this decision by myself in my little corner, with the support of my family, off course. But I wanted to make the decision for me. I am very, very proud. You need courage to arrive at this conclusion.

I felt that six months or even one year later I would have a harsh bitter taste if I continued, and that things won't get better than what happened these last few months. But today, I can speak about my sport, all that I lived with a smile, very beautiful things happened and they are in my heart. I have a desire to create new things. The future for me is to live with my decision, and to realize my new goals. To assume it and breathe again.

There are no bad things ahead for me. I feel that I have the qualities and capacities, to communicate and raise many new projects. I'm sure I will see things much more clearly when the time comes. The first is my Foundation. It's really very important for me to be able to continue to help these children, to live precious moments with them. To continue to give them a chance to dream. We're here at my home. Right in my tennis academy. This is something which I will continue to support, off course with Carlos. He'll be stronger and valuable here. I have confidence in other future projects. There are peak performance workshops and seminars with Carlos and Nexum/Nexp in the area of human resources.

Off course, there are gratitudes to give. The first of which is to Carlos - I say thank. You are once more at my side. It's 12 years together that we lived , and you held me up. 12 years to believe in me. You never abandoned me. He was always very discrete and standing in the shadows when I won because he didn't want to intrude on my family and friends. But at other times, the difficult moments he made his presence known. He always respected me, and I must say since last week Thursday he still impresses me. The calm and patience he gave me. The incredible amount of support. I know he will always be strong and at my side. I am really very proud of this because tennis is a solo sport. It is undoubtedly my most exquisite thing of pride - the human adventure that I lived with him. And I believe that if Carlos had said to me one day, "Ju for family reasons or some other reason. Please don't feel obligated. You can let me go". It was obvious to me that we would still continue as a team even if my tennis career stopped. We're powerful together, and this is why it worked so well.

Our relationship was much bigger than coach and a player. We passed all the tests, but from now on it will be different, it will be more beautiful. I'm grateful to his family - his wife and children who will get more of their father. And the thought of this makes me smile today. It's also a relief to know there won't be these difficult moments, these separations. They really have a big place in my heart.

I would like to, off course, thank my family - my parents, Dad, Mom, because I'm here today only because of you. Everything is fine thanks to you. My brothers and sister too. I have to admit that my role as older sister makes me very happy. There are great things which await us. My friends here today. It was great spending time with you and I'm sure there's more ahead for us, bigger things, more honest and stronger. My Godmother is here. Gene, thank you for your role in my life it was very important. My staff obviously. You can only build something large with a faithful team. And they were always available and believed in me. Thank you for being there. It wasn't an individual sport, but a team sport.

Thank You to all my sponsors, the current ones and those from the very beginning because without people who believe - you cannot get there. Thank You to the AFT, the WTA, the COIB and all the people who counted on me.

Thank You to all my fans. I'm happy to have had the opportunity to give them excitement. I hope I brought a little sunshine in their lives. We spent such great moments together. I hope that everyone can understand and that everyone will support me in the beginning of this new life...

Thank you very much

Monday, May 05, 2008

Playing with fire

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Today was dad's birthday.

My father is funny. Nowadays he sometimes almost gets angry with me (like for not phoning)...then he melts and starts to laugh.

My mum told me a story, she doesn't tell me many stories, about when I was really little and reaching out to touch the candlelight. Back then, candles and lanterns were our only defense when NEPA worked its magic...in the many years before we could dream of affording a generator.

Anyway, as you can imagine, this chubby black baby was hugely fascinated by the light of the candle. My mother was losing her cool because...what if I knocked it over, what if I burned myself...so she kept warning me away from it. I kept crawling back until my father appeared and solved the problem: he took my hand and helped me touch the flame for a second. :)

I can just imagine the scene - me crying at the top of my lungs, my mother mortified at my father's tactics of harming the baby, my father laughing and explaining I just needed to learn for myself.

He's always been a good teacher.

By the way, I still enjoy playing with fire.

Happy birthday to my smiling and dearly loved father.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Lend me some sugar, I AM your neighbour

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FINALLY went out of Cairo last weekend, to Fayid for an AIESEC conference. It was the most extroverted and amazing time hanging out with a hundred driven, screaming, university kids. Finally, dancing!

Though the Pyramids are in nearby Giza, I still haven't visited. The other day I reached the entrance and saw a golf course and skipped the Pyramids for a golf lesson, and hung out with my teacher/caddy and his family afterwards.

One day I checked out the Egyptian museum near my house. The museum is rich and grand with hundreds of large statues and mummies and countless objects. The mummies are a special experience: you can hear their stories if you listen closely - the dead child, his disconsolate young mother, the enterprising, the princess...they walked the earth and now they're done and must lie, only lie, in death.

Only a couple of months to go in this city, so I'm eager to soak up the fun. I also need to do tourist things - Pyramids, Alexandria, Luxor, Red Sea (Dhihab or Sharm El-Sheikh), shopping or whatever. Some friends may visit in Egypt soon so I'll show them around. Living is more fun than touring...Surprised at how much I've fallen in love with crazy Misr.

Now I really want to go to Oman and of course back to Yemen. And next year to check out Dubai.