tampabay.com

A comeback that tops them all

By KEITH NIEBUHR
Published February 1, 2005


As strange as this might sound, the Australian Open's best story might not have belonged to Marat Safin or Serena Williams . That's because it is tough to overlook what American Corina Morariu accomplished.

Morariu teamed with Lindsay Davenport to finish second in women's doubles. What makes this notable is that Morariu, a 1999 Wimbledon doubles champion, was diagnosed in 2001 with acute romyelocytic leukemia, a rare form resulting in a malignancy of bone marrow. Word that she had the disease came not long after she won the Australian mixed doubles title with Ellis Ferreira and reached the women's final with Davenport. After leaving Melbourne Park that year, she started getting nosebleeds and experiencing unusual bruising.

Once diagnosed, playing again wasn't a high priority.

Morariu was just trying to stay alive.

She had chemotherapy and the treatment worked. The disease went into remission 14 months later and she returned to a full schedule in 2003.

"I feel lucky to be able to be out here playing," said two years ago.

When Morariu returned to the WTA Tour, she hoped to regain her form. And although her team lost to Svetlana Kuznetsova and Alicia Molik 6-3, 6-4 in Friday's final, her efforts in Melbourne confirmed she has done just that.

"It was, you know, just a really special day," Morariu said. "It's been a long 31/2 years for me. I'm really lucky to just be playing again. And, you know, playing a Grand Slam final is an added bonus. The last time I got out of the hospital in November of 2001, I couldn't walk 20 yards. So to think that I would be able to play tennis again, let alone play at this level, seemed like a really tall mountain to climb."

The day was equally emotional for her playing partner.

"We just thought it was a pretty cool thing after four years to be back when certainly for years there we didn't think there was any possibility of playing, let alone trying to win it again," Davenport said.

STILL GOING: At seemingly every event, Andre Agassi is asked about retirement. His play might provide some answers.

Since turning 30 five years ago, Agassi has reached the quarterfinals or better 14 times in 19 attempts at majors, with three titles. In his past two Grand Slam appearances, he lost to world No. 1 Roger Federer , something most players have done recently. So, for an old guy, Agassi hasn't done half bad. He still expects to win. And he says he's still trying to find ways to improve.

"I came in tonight with the full expectation of being at my best," Agassi said after losing to Federer in the Australian quarterfinals.

SAVE IT FOR LATER: Williams went on to win the title after saving three match points in the semifinals against Maria Sharapova . She won the 2003 Australian Open after saving two match points in the semifinals against Kim Clijsters .

That type of feat is rare.

In the history of the women's game, only 21 times has a player claimed a Grand Slam event after being down match point. It hasn't happened at Wimbledon since Helen Wills Moody in 1935.

ODDS AND ENDS: The Williams-Sharapova semifinal was ESPN2's most-watched tennis telecast ever with an average of 1.001-million homes. The three-set struggle ended well past midnight for those watching in the eastern time zone. ... The biggest hurdle for Tampa's James Blake appears to be Lleyton Hewitt . Blake lost a four-setter to Hewitt in the second round of the Australian, falling to 0-6 all time against the Aussie star. Three of the defeats have been in majors. Two matches went five sets.

--Information from Times wires was used in the report. Keith Niebuhr can be reached at 813 226-3350 or online at niebuhr@sptimes.com