'We really came together as a team'

By BRENT STUBBS Senior Sports Reporter bstubbs@tribunemedia.net It's hard to fathom that, at the age of 41, Mark Knowles is still finding a way to win men's doubles titles on the ATP tour. But teaming up with Xavier Malisse at the SAP Open last week, the duo won the title in their first outing of the year with a 6-4, 1-6, 10-5 win over the team of Kevin Anderson of the Republic of South Africa and Frank Moser of Germany. "It seems like I'm playing well here. It's been nice to play with Knowles," said Malisse, who clearly remembers the tournament they won together last year in Los Angeles. "I didn't have that much confidence in the beginning of the week but playing doubles helps. We played good in the finals. It's always nice to get a title." Interestingly, Knowles and Malisse will take a break this week. But Knowles will pair up with Anderson at the Regions Morgan Keegan Championship & Memphis International. Unseeded, Knowles and Anderson are scheduled to face the top-ranked team of Max Mirnyi of Bulgaria and Canadian Daniel Nestor, a former long-time partner of Knowles, in the first round. Knowles and Malisse, however, are looking forward to reuniting in tournaments in Delray Beach, starting on February 27 and Houston, starting on March 9. They are also considering an appearance together at the French Open that is set to start on May 27. But looking back at their performance last week, Knowles said he was quite content with their final result. "It's been a great week. It's my first tournament of the year so I wasn't really sure what to expect. I didn't go to Australia for the first time in a long time. I'm real excited," Knowles said. "Playing in the finals never gets old, and to win a title is even better. It's been a great week in San Jose. I've really enjoyed playing here. Xavier played fantastic tennis. We really came together as a team." Knowles said he's not committing himself to a full-time schedule. And even though his ranking has dropped a bit, he still enjoys playing the game he has as a pro for the past 20 years. "If I can play at the highest level and still do well, it's something I look forward to," Knowles said. "For me, it's take it one week at a time and try to enjoy myself and play my best tennis." If there's any consolation for Knowles as he looks ahead to the remainder of the year, he has been mentioned along the line of John McEnroe, one of the greatest players of all-time from the US. "To be in a sentence with John McEnroe is pretty cool. I'll take that. I didn't realize that. To win a title at 40 years old is far beyond anything I could have dreamed of," Knowles said. "When you first turn pro, you never really dream of playing 20-plus years on tour. I've been fortunate enough to stay fairly healthy and have had some great partners who have helped me win a lot of titles over the years." When asked what has been the key to his longevity in the sport, Knowles admits that it has "helped me to have a family. I spend a lot of time with my wife and three kids. "I really enjoy tennis a lot more than I did in the beginning when it was just myself. It's real exciting to be mentioned in the same breath as John McEnroe - the greatest doubles player of all time. Hopefully I can try to get into a few more sentences with Johnny Mac." For now, Knowles just wants to keep on pacing the court with another partner - any partner. "It's amazing. You don't really keep track of that until somebody points it out," said Knowles about winning his first title for the year. "Now I'm a little bit bummed I didn't win that one title. It's special. It's a great streak. You don't' really think about that. But anytime you can play a final and win it's something special. It's very tough to win tournaments out here. It's not easy. I'm very fortunate to get another title." Hopefully he and Anderson can try to keep the streak going to 2-0 this week in Memphis.


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