Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Legs to Stand On

Growing up, I regularly attended high school basketball games. My four older siblings all played the winter sport, and it was a great distraction from the frighteningly cold winter weather in Montana. My sisters' teams were consistently bad - real bad. Year after year I would watch them have losing seasons, winning just a handful of games in each. I wondered what the problem was: the coaching? The players? The game plans?

As I got older and started to play basketball myself, I began to see that a good team took all of the aforementioned ingredients. You couldn't have a great team without good players, a knowledgeable coach and a solid game plan - it all had to come together at once. Great teams just didn't happen, they had to be carefully orchestrated. But above anything else, the talent had to be there. Talent is the legs that greatness stands on.

As the Tremendous Two has grown into the Ferocious Four, it's safe to say that the ATP has legs to stand on for the next few years - four pairs of sturdy, terribly talented legs.

(Photo by billybuck via flickr.)

Watching Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray (as they're ranked) each have their own, separate bursts of greatness this year has been nothing short of spectacular. These four men have captured my attention in a way like never before, and I've become interested in men's tennis on a genuine, true-fan level. I'm guessing that they - and I - will be sticking around for a while.

The frightening thing is that there are three more pairs of talented legs - Juan Martin del Potro, Gilles Simon and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga - that are threatening to turn the Ferocious Four into the Scintillating Seven. These are all gentlemen who have shown flashes of their own brilliance this season (throughout the calendar year), and a group that the tour can look to in week two of Grand Slams not as darkhorses or outsiders, but actually as legitimate heavy weights who just haven't had their breakthrough yet.

Last week, I wrote about how increasingly interesting the men's tour was becoming, and how the women's tour was lacking any true rivalries or distinction. The thing is, even if the women's tour was bursting with talent and attracting me with new and different stars, it would take nothing away from the legitimacy of what a great group of men sit atop the ATP rankings.

For tennis to be interesting on both sides is nearly impossible. Very often, in fact, it's difficult for even one tour to be compelling. But we are ending a year on the ATP that showed us what brilliance can do when it's pitted again other brilliance, and that bodes well for 2009, even if their is off-court drama.

You can ask for well-rounded, attractive champions, but it's not often that you get a group of truly talented, just-short-of-spectacular champions all at once. Now that's a talent any season can build on.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Career Battle

Lately, I've felt like a Williams sister. No, I'm not taking New York by storm with incredible fashion, participating in photo shoots, starting my own design line, starring on TV and having paparazzi follow me all over the city (a boy can dream though, right?). Instead, I've been exploring my various interests in this new and different city, dipping my toes into a new cafe, playing volleyball, exploring the arts and getting lost on the subway.

So, as the season has come to an end and Venus captured her first-ever WTA Championships title, I haven't felt like blogging much. I'm wondering if I seek a career like the Williams sisters, where I blog now and then and save the good stuff for meaty, Grand Slam-like posts or that of Jelena Jankovic, where I'm blogging everyday, often times at a lower quality level, stretching my mind and imagination and failing to deliver when it matters most (like during the 5th biggest tournament of the year).

But like tennis, the nature of the blogging world is demanding. If you don't churn out consistent, good stuff, the critics will come calling - or, in this case - the readers will stop reading. It's a Catch 22 if there ever was one, and as much as I think I have good writing skills that can only get better, I'm no Venus or Serena.

In any case, as winter approaches and the tennis tour takes its short vacation, I see myself joining them for the most part. There are certainly a few topics I would like to write on over the next 6 weeks before 2009 begins, and I would like to resurrect the ever-popular video blogging.

I'll try to make that all happen soon, but for now I'm off to a photo shoot... oops, there I go thinking I'm a Williams sister again. Ah, the life!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Some of These Don't Belong

(WTA Tour photo screen grab.)

As the top women on the WTA Tour converge on Doha for the Season Ending Championships this week, there are a few things that still need to be worked on for some of the girls: their wardrobes.

Let's make this simple:
Jelena Jankovic: Let's bring back the 70s, baby!
Dinara Safina: Wait, this isn't the Wimbledon ball?
Serena Williams: As usual, I look waaaaaaaaay better than everyone else here.
Ana Ivanovic: I love that episode of Seinfeld where Jerry wears the Pirate shirt!
Elena Dementieva: Damn Ana and Serena, their black pants are shinier than mine!
Svetlana Kuznetsova: I'm ready for my first day of 9th grade!
Venus Williams: I save my fashion for the court, ladies.
Vera Zvonareva: I just used my hotel room curtains as an outfit, that's OK right?

A Change of Scenery

A few years ago, when Serena was making her way through the Serena Slam, Jennifer Capriati was still re-surging, the Belgium duo was just making their way up while the likes of Venus, Lindsay and Mary Pierce were a weekly tour of Big Babe tennis and a Swiss Miss named Martina was still a Top 5 power, women's tennis was riding high.

2008 has painted quite a different picture for the WTA: Capriati, Pierce, both Belgium girls and (mostly) Davenport are absent from the game, while the world's Number 1, Jelena Jankovic, has never won a slam, and half-hearted champion Maria Sharapova, topsy-turvy Ana Ivanovic and other newcomers make up what USA Today writer Doug Robson calls "the weakest top-10 ever".

Meanwhile, across the aisle in the Men's Room, the ATP (despite its internal conflicts) is on fire. The Big Two (Roger and Rafa) was extended to the Big Three after Novak Djokovic won the Australian Open to open the year, and rumors are now swirling about "the Big Four" following Andy Murray's run to the US Open final and his win at the Madrid Masters. Perhaps after this week in Paris, it may be considered the Big Five - we'll just have to see what Jo-Wilfried Tsonga does in Shanghai.

The thing is, the tours have done something of a flip-flop. Following 2003, Magnus Norman's career went to the crapper, but as he and other faux champions (see: "Andy Roddick" or "Juan Carlos Ferrero") have been pushed aside, a great wave of bona-fide champions has emerged. Federer has been the foremost of these, while Nadal is on his heels (and ahead of him, in some aspects) and players like Djokovic, Murray, Tsonga and others including Gilles Simon and Juan Martin del Potro are attempting to make this the hay-day of tennis (once again).

While players like Djokovic, Murray and Tsonga have proved their staying power, the WTA has little strength to rest on outside of the House of Williams. Ana Ivanovic was a dismal 5-6 in the four months following her maiden slam win in Paris, and Jankovic has yet to win a slam, herself. Up-and-comers like Nicole Vaidisova, Maria Kirilenko, Marion Bartoli, Sania Mirza and others have been much talked-about, but have yet to come up with the goods. Others like Alize Cornet and Caroline Wozniacki have appealing games, but have yet to prove themselves in the upper echelon of the game.

Recently, I can't help but follow the men a little more than the women. The rivalries are there, the passion is tangible, and the drama is saved for the court. The girls always provide the drama, but perhaps they need to change the scenery to between the lines to make things a little more appealing... or can we just never have the best of both worlds?