I’ve been a bad, bad tennis blogger! If Murray, Djokovic and Federer could get back to the grind in Shanghai, what excuse do I have for blowing off the Asian swing? Well, all I can say is sometimes you just need a break from the tour. And in my case I didn’t have to battle knee tendinitis, an altercation with a broken beer bottle or a bout of kleptomania to get it. Instead, I just forgot to DVR the Tennis Channel for a few weeks.
But as the days and scorelines passed, I kept wondering what my friends were up to – feeling like I wanted to catch up with them, but wondering if we’d be able to pick up where we left off after so much time had passed. But then I saw the above photo of the long-sidelined Rafael Nadal with BFF Pico Monaco, enjoying some quality boat time together between practice sessions, and thought: “Just log onto the WTA’s home page and see what happens !” (Well actually, my first thought was “Whoo baby, wish I was on that boat!” But then I quickly came to my sober, tennis blogging senses.)
So here I am. What have I missed? Or maybe it’s best just to look forward to what’s left of the season. There’s enough in this final stretch to keep even the most overstuffed tennis fan interested. For someone who’s been on a tennis cleanse, the coming weeks are as tempting as an all-you-can-eat hot fudge sundae buffet. (I am still pregnant, you see – hold on a minute while I go get a Klondike bar. . .)
Yum. Yum. We have Roger defending his title in Basel, with Del Potro as a possible final opponent; David Ferrer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga playing in Valencia, where long-time tennis heart throb and former No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero will bow out of the sport this week (awww. . .) and of course the top eight women are in Istanbul, playing in the WTA Championships. All this and we still have the Paris Masters to look forward to next week (one of my favorite events, due to the lightning fast surface and the resultant crop of champions, including Safin, Tsonga, Federer and Nalbandian) and the ATP World Tour Finals right after that. Roger, who’s in a battle for year end number one with Novak Djokovic, says he’s looking forward to these “crazy three weeks.” You know what’s really crazy? That starting about this time last year, Roger won Basel, Paris and the ATP World Tour Finals in his own year-end triple crown. I actually forgot all about this crazy Roger revival, and barely believed it when I read it today. Fun to be reminded.
But let’s focus on the ladies for a while, since they’re the ones we’ll be saying goodbye to when their season comes to a close at the end of the week. This year’s “Elite 8″ as they’re called on the WTA’s website, is an eclectic and talented bunch.
Red Group: Azarenka, Williams, Kerber, Li
White group: Sharapova, Radwanska, Kvitova, Errani
For the first time at this tournament each woman not only represents her own unique style (on and off the court, as we like to say) but also a unique nationality – each hails from a different country. This year we had a legitimate Big Three take control of the women’s game, with Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams taking home the Major trophies in convincing style. Though they dominated the Majors and the rankings, competitors like Agnieszka Radwanska, Angelique Kerber and this year’s spunky surprise, Sara Errani (who is also in the doubles draw this week), pulled off some stunning performances. There’s a feeling that anything could happen in Istanbul, and for the first time in a while, that’s actually a plus for women’s tennis. The randomness that has plagued the WTA over the past few years, with all the grumblings about “undeserving” No. 1s and no-Slam wonders, seems to have finally transformed into what WTA boosters have long protested was depth.
And while we’re talking about the women, I must give a season ending shout out to Venus Williams, who won the 44th singles title of her career this past weekend at the Luxembourg Open. It’s her first since being diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome two years ago, and her fans will take heart in her post-tournament comment to USA Today: “Coming back this year I didn’t know what to expect. . .Obviously to win a title at the end of the year just makes me so excited for 2013.” The game’s better as long as Venus is in it.
The sport that I’ve been following closely and thinking about a lot over the past few weeks is cycling. I’ve kept up with the Lance Armstrong’s story much like his doped up teammates stuck with him on the rough parts of the Tour – rapt at his feats of will. In this case, of course, it wasn’t his determination on the bike that awed me, but his fierce dedication to deception, intimidation and the bald faced lie. The more I learn about what was, in fact, a nearly decade long conspiracy and cover-up centered around one of the most revered athletes in all of Sport, the more I feel like a dope (pun intended). Sure, tennis has a different culture, physical skill set and tougher drug testing than cycling has had, but haven’t we also been all too willing, as a collective fan base, to hide behind these pat pronouncements and avoid taking a good hard look at doping in our sport? Looking ahead to next season, I have a feeling that the issue of doping in tennis won’t be brushed off quite as easily by journalists and fans. It may not be our sport, but Lance’s fall is a fall from innocence for the rest of us.