Some Taylor news finally......
Trying to make a Dent in his return
By Bonnie DeSimone
Special to ESPN.com
Nov. 15, 2006
If optimism cured all, Taylor Dent would have been back on the tennis court a long time ago. He remains upbeat despite the pain in his lower back that has kept him out of competition for nearly a full year.
"It's slow progress -- three steps forward and two steps back," Dent said from his Florida home this week. "I'm definitely in a training mode, lifting weights, playing baseline games with some of the kids down here. I just have to be careful not to overdo it with arching and twisting my back."
Dent's huge serve helped carry him to No. 21 in the world in late 2005, but that big pop came at a big price. The exaggerated lean and torque in his motion, repeated endlessly over the years, led to two stress fractures in his vertebrae and accompanying nerve damage.
After struggling through a few matches early this year, Dent elected to rest, tried alternative therapies like acupuncture and Reiki, and underwent a minor surgery called a rhizotomy, in which the problem nerve endings are essentially cauterized with a hot electric needle. The procedure didn't provide any lasting relief, though, and Dent found himself back where he started -- a serve-and-volley specialist minus the first half of that combination.
Dent has tinkered with his motion to try to ease the strain without sacrificing too much power. But he said he still isn't quite ready to test it under match conditions, although he did knock the ball around at Chris Evert's charity event in Delray Beach, Fla., earlier this month.
"I can get on a court and hit a lot of balls, but as soon as I start hitting a lot of serves, it flares up," Dent said.
He's not working with anyone regularly now and said he has no near-term plans to hire a full-time coach. His boyhood friend Tommy Lloyd, who filled that role last season, took a job as assistant coach at the University of Arizona in August.
Lloyd said he's confident Dent will make a full comeback even if his serve loses a few miles per hour.
"He can't afford not to have a big serve with his game and how well guys are returning," said Lloyd, who has known Dent since they were 10 years old and refers to him, like many of Dent's friends, as "Tails."
"It doesn't necessarily have to be as big, but it has to be on the money, dead accurate," Lloyd said. "When he puts the ball in his spots and sets up his first volley, his precision and athleticism at the net are deadly."
Lloyd said Dent is fully aware of how long it might take him to get back to his former level.
"It's a long sticky road, and having to start with Challengers [lower-level pro events] and getting wild cards is a different look from what he's used to," the coach said. "But he's so good at looking at the bright side. And he's seen his good friend James Blake come back from a lot more physical hardship than he's had. I'm sure that's inspiring for Tails."
Still, the 25-year-old Dent is booked to play six weeks from now with Venus Williams (who herself is nursing a left wrist injury) in the Hopman Cup, the international mixed doubles event held annually in Perth, Australia. "I hope to do a lot of damage on those indoor courts," he said.
Dent jokingly grumbled that his layoff has forced him to spend more time doing dishes, laundry, gardening and plumbing repairs around the Sarasota home he shares with fiancée Jenny Hopkins, but quickly added that "we have an awesome house -- I don't want to move anytime soon."
He and Hopkins, a WTA player who retired last year and is now studying fashion design, will be married on Dec. 8 on nearby Longboat Key after a six-year courtship.
Dent, the son of Australian Open finalist Phil Dent and former top-10 U.S. player Betty Ann (Grubb) Stuart, said he enjoyed his stint as a commentator with The Tennis Channel at this year's U.S. Open. But he's far from contemplating another career -- especially since he no longer takes this one for granted.
"I got good feedback, but I prefer playing tenfold," Dent said.
"When I was first experiencing these back problems, I said, 'Oh, this'll be a nice little break,'" he said. "The little break turned into a big long one. I'm watching the Masters Cup in Shanghai, and it's frustrating. I still believe I can compete with and beat most of the guys out there.
"My goal now is to go to bed every night knowing I've done all I can to get back."
And here are some recent pics taken from the Chris Evert Charity.
Taylor Dent with Jennifer Hopkins.
17th Annual Chris Evert/Raymond James Pro-Celebrity Tennis Classic - November 5, 2006
Taylor with comedian Jon Lovitz