The Flame Flickers, Fades and Finishes

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A-O-KEI: It was a bit odd to hear that 19-year-old Kei Nishikori was named ATP Tour Newcomer of the Year on Tuesday in Tokyo.  After all, the No. 188-ranked baseliner, who underwent elbow surgery in August, has gone 4-6 on the year and played since March.  But the honor was for his breakout season in ’08, which saw him become the youngest player to finish inside the top 100 and the first Japanese player to finish in the top 100 in more than a decade.  Nishikori is expected to make his return to the ATP Tour in 2010.  Other award winners included: Rafael Nadal (Player of the Year), Daniel Nestor/Nenad Zimonjic (Doubles Team of the Year), James Blake (Arthur Ashe Humanitarian of the Year), Roger Federer (Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (Most Improved) and Rainer Schuettler (Comeback Player of the Year).

BLAKE-BARKER SPLIT?: ESPN’s Bonnie Ford reports that James Blake appears to have split with longtime coach Brian Barker, with whom he has worked for the past 17 years.  The 29-year-old Blake, who has fallen from a career-high No. 4 ranking in ’06 to No. 24, said, “It’s not like we’re ending our relationship.  We’re still good friends, which will never change. Right now we both feel like I need to hear some things from a different voice.”  That different voice will be that of pal Kelly Jones, who has previously worked with Mardy Fish and John Isner.  Said Blake from Beijing, “Kelly’s been close to both of us for a long time, and he’s a perfect fit for now. If things go well with him, everyone’s happy. Brian wants nothing but the best for me. If they don’t, then I go back to Brian and we know there’s a reason I’m back. It was just time to take a little break and see how it goes with someone else.”

AUSSIE ANGST: The rift between Lleyton Hewitt and Bernard Tomic remains.  The two Aussies had a falling out after the 16-year-old Tomic reportedly snubbed a practice invitation from Team Hewitt at Wimbledon, and instead offered to hit with Spaniard J.C. Ferrero. Tomic has denied the accusation, insisting that he had swine flu and was unable to hit with his Davis Cup teammate.  Sounds like some pretty childish stuff, mates.  I mean, can’t we all just get along?

A SLAM OF A DIFFERENT KIND: With Chris Evert having married a Brit (John Lloyd), an American (Andy Mills) and an Aussie (Greg Norman), writer Miguel Seabra suggested that Evert could complete a Grand Slam if she would just marry a Frenchman.

HUNGER STRIKE: Word comes from Belgrade that Jelena Dokic‘s troubled father, Damir, has begun a hunger strike to protest his 15-month prison sentence for threatening the Australian ambassador.

TITANIC SURVIVORS: On Oct. 21 at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I., Bud Collins will deliver a lecture on the lives of Hall of Famers Dick Williams and Karl Behr, who both survived the sinking of the Titanic. Born of American parents in Switzerland, Williams was en route to the U.S. to focus on a career in tennis when the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank. At the insistence of his father, who went down with the ship, Williams dived from the deck at the last possible moment, swam to a half-submerged lifeboat and clung there, in near-freezing water, for six hours. When rescued, a ship’s doctor advised amputation of his frozen-stiff, seemingly useless legs. But Williams refused, and miraculously, only months later he was in the quarterfinals of the 1912 U.S. National Championships.  He went on to win two U.S. National Championships and rise to No. 1.

HEADLINES

Norman and Evert Land in the Rough

THE NUMBERS

17: Age of American hopeful Ryan Harrison, who won a $10,000 Futures event in Laguna Niguel, Calif., last week, and is now through to the quarters of a $50,000 Challenger in Sacramento, Calif.

QUOTEBOOK

“I told him that the most important thing in his tennis career is to have a clear head and peace of mind for the rest of your life that you did everything you possibly could to get better, maximize your potential and not leave anything on the table.” — Brian Barker on James Blake

“[Serena] Williams should be banned for at least one Grand Slam tournament. As in most sports, that ban should begin immediately. Thus she should not be allowed to defend her Australian Open title.” — The Sydney Morning Herald’s Richard Hinds

“A lot of people like to remember my backhand and I suppose I do, too.” — Ken Rosewall

“Ultimately it seems, as with many teenaged lovebirds, the flame flickers, fades and finishes, leaving not only the principals, but all those who lived vicariously through them, disappointed.” — Tom Tebbutt on the Evert-Norman split