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The Star Online: Sports

Clijsters: I'm not going to Japan

Posted: 23 Mar 2011 09:09 PM PDT

KEY BISCAYNE, Florida (AP) - Kim Clijsters is planning to avoid Japan over radiation fears since an earthquake and tsunami crippled a nuclear plant there.

Clijsters told Belgian media on Tuesday that she wouldn't go to the WTA tournament in Tokyo in September nor to one in Beijing the following month. The WTA released a statement from Clijsters on Wednesday.

"Most importantly, my thoughts and sympathies are with the people in Japan," she said in the statement. "It's heart-wrenching to see what they're going through right now. Of course the health and safety of anyone traveling to a potentially impacted area is my top priority as well as the WTA's, and I know that the WTA will continue to monitor the situation."

Radiation has seeped into vegetables, raw milk, the water supply and seawater since a magnitude-9 quake and tsunami hit the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant nearly two weeks ago.

The World Health Organization said last week that the radiation was unlikely to spread internationally.

During an interview in English on Tuesday, Clijsters expressed sympathy for what Japan is going through. However, she never mentioned in that interview feeling uncomfortable about traveling to the region.

"It's obviously very tough to sit here, especially when it just happened and we were in Indian Wells following everything on the news, and I'm sitting here playing tennis and those people are struggling to stay alive," Clijsters said. "You're very worried and you feel very sad for the people and you cannot imagine what they're feeling and going through.

"I spoke to (my former doubles partner) Ai Sugiyama and was asking her if she was OK," Clijsters added.

Japanese player Kimiko Date-Krumm, 40, who won her first round match on Wednesday at the Sony Ericsson Open, admits she's still shocked by what took place in Japan. Date-Krumm's family is safe and she's started a relief fund to assist victims of the disaster.

Date-Krumm understands Clijsters' anxiety about going to Japan. She's hoping her country will be able to host the event.

"We still have time and, hopefully, we can fix everything and everybody can come to Japan," Date-Krumm said. "First safety. If it's still not safe I can't push. But if it's 100 percent safe I hope everybody will come and help Japan."

Roger Federer and Andy Roddick said Wednesday that they haven't given any thought to whether they will play in the Tokyo event in October.

Federer said, "It hasn't even crossed my mind yet. I will only think about that when the situation is right in front of me. But we'll get the green light or not from someone else. At the end of the day you always have to take your own decision, but I don't think it's going to be a problem by then, to be honest."

Roddick said: "I would say it's a long ways away for me. Obviously, if it's deemed safe, I'll go."

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New tires to be major factor in F1 Melbourne GP

Posted: 23 Mar 2011 08:45 PM PDT

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) - New Formula One tire supplier Pirelli believes the introduction of faster-wearing tires to the sport should make strategy and tactics a major factor in deciding Sunday's season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone has directed Pirelli - which replaces Bridgestone as the official F1 tire manufacturer from this season after a 20-year absence - to create a compound that will force two to three pit stops per race and create the tire degradation that will result in cars traveling at different speeds and therefore fostering more overtaking.

Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery told The AP on Thursday that the Italian manufacturer has clear instructions to reintroduce some "movement and spectacle" to the sport.

While faster-wearing tires had been met with a mixed response from drivers and teams, Hembery said they had the potential to take F1 back to the years when a good strategy had the ability to beat a good car.

"It would be fantastic for the sport if maybe some of the teams not normally in the top four come up with a strategy that allows them to get on the podium, and maybe cause a mini upset," he said.

"People in the last few years have forgotten that strategy was an integral part of the sport," he added. "If you take the example of Michael Schumacher and Ross Brawn (at Ferrari), they were the experts almost at race strategy, and won many a race because of a good call and coming in for either a fuel stop or tire change, and those are factors that will become important again."

Teams tried the new tires during preseason testing, and opinions ranged from world champion Sebastian Vettel's prediction they will add excitement to the race, to that of his Red Bull team owner Dietrich Mateschitz who described them as a "catastrophe."

While the durability of Bridgestone's tires - even the soft compounds were capable of doing an entire race - had reduced the role of tire strategy, some critics had said the new Pirelli rubber had lurched in the other direction to where it may be too important.

"Clearly change is often something that causes people to maybe get excited, but at the end of the day what we've said to them is 'look everybody has the same, somebody on Sunday will be on top of the podium as the first winner on Pirelli tires in 20 years, drinking champagne and very happy.' So they have to be sure they're the ones," Hembery said.

What makes this year different to the Schumacher-Brawn era at Ferrari is the absence of refueling, which makes the number and timing of pit stops entirely about tire strategy.

Hembery said teams preparing for Sunday's race will decide between a two-stop or perhaps a three-stop strategy. They will also need to decide whether to spend more time on the softer 'option' tire or the harder 'prime' tire for longer - "balancing absolute performance with the ability to stay on the track longer."

"They're also going to have to understand the evolution of the track over the weekend, which is something that is an unknown for most of them because testing was done in very cold weather and with relatively small numbers of cars," he said.

Melbourne's Albert Park track - which hosts the season-opening race after the Bahrain GP was canceled due to civil unrest - was not Pirelli's ideal first race back in F1.

"We would have liked to have gone to Bahrain to be perfectly honest," Hembery said. "We've done a lot of testing there and have a lot of data, and it's a very good representative circuit for a tire maker in the sense that it can be hot but it can also be very abrasive.

"Melbourne brings a lot of factors. The conditions can change rapidly here. It's an event where you could have 20 degrees (Celsius; 68 degrees Fahrenheit) and rain, up to almost 40 degrees (104 degrees Fahrenheit) track temperature. It's very challenging from that point of view."

Melbourne is forecast to have cool and cloudy weather over the race weekend, with the chance of occasional showers.

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