Monday, October 26, 2009

While the cats are away, the mice will play

It’s been kind of interesting to look at which small fry have emerged to positions of success over the past two weeks while the big guns have been preparing for the year-end tournaments. Mainly, this has turned out to be an exercise in confirmation of why the best players are the best, and why the remainder are the also-ran.

In true international fashion, the ATP championship tour has changed as many names as it has locations. This year it has been re-named the ATP World Tour Finals, and will be held in London under the sponsorship of Barclays. Davydenko and Verdasco are still battling to qualify. Robin Soderling still has an outside chance. The solid qualifiers (Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray, Del Potro and Roddick) have either stopped playing tennis altogether, or miraculously seem to be losing in the early rounds. After all, one has to have time to prepare.

To give you a sense of the depth of the men’s tour, the following players probably don’t have a chance in heck of qualifying for the Barclays: Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, Marin Cilic, Fernando Gonzalez, and Gilles Simon. And these are players who can take out any of the top players in any tournament on any given day.

In the meantime, for anyone who dares to complain about the dominance of any group of players, I refer you to the pathetic spectacle of the Stockholm Finals. While playing his third Challenger event of the year (in Tashkent), Marcos Baghdatis received news that he had been granted a wildcard into the Stockholm event. The other finalist was Ollie Rochus, a short dude with a big heart and who is no threat to anyone on the tour.

To say that the match between Baghdatis and Rochus was dull would be kind. It was one of the worst finals I have ever wasted my time watching. Both players traded slow, mind-numbing backhands as if they were in no hurry to get off the court. I’ve seen Challenger finals that were more scintillating. Then again the big cats were away so we had to settle for mice.

Over on the women’s side, Jelena Jankovic has barely just squeaked under the wire to qualify for the Sony Ericsson Championships. It’s hard to believe that this is the same Jankovic who ascended to # 1 after Henin departed. I think that becoming # 1 was the worst thing to happen to Jankovic. I will never forget an interview in which she talked about how proud she was of being able to tell her future grandchildren that their grandmother was once the # 1 player in the world. Having arrived at this pinnacle, she promptly lost the hunger and could think only of babies. At heart she seems to be a cowardly mouse, not a feral cat of the breed required for survival.

The big drama going into Doha seems to be between Serena and Dinara over who is the real # 1. For this, the powers-that-be in women’s tennis seem to have been temporarily required to forget that they are seriously pissed with one of these women. Dinara is going into Doha as the # 1 seed. But only 155 points separate her from Serena, which means that either woman can close out the year as the # 1 player in the world. I wonder if winning will attract Serena any forgiveness points from the tennis establishment?

The remaining qualifiers are Kuznetsova, Wozniacki, Dementieva, Azarenka, and Venus Williams. Wozniacki is also under an investigative cloud at this time. I hope she has the mental maturity to not let this interfere with her game.

In the meantime, the small fry also came out to play in Moscow. We were treated to a finals match between Francesca Schiavone and Olga Govortsova. The audience seemed embarrassingly sparse. But the tennis was much better than the crap delivered by Rochus and Baghdatis. Both women played solid tennis. There was nothing to be ashamed of in this match. I never yawned once. But it was no Dementieva vs. Serena Williams. Or Venus Williams vs. Victoria Azarenka. Honestly, I can’t wait for Doha.

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