Saturday, January 8, 2011

Gearing up for Tennis 2011

I love the fact that the ATP always goes out of its way to do something unique and special to herald the start of the new tennis season. One of the more memorable launches involved Agassi and Federer playing tennis on the helipad of Burj Al Arab sailboat hotel in Dubai, 211 meters above ground. This year we have been treated to Rafa and Roger playing on water.

I don’t know whose are the creative minds behind these projects, but I really need to make a point of mentioning how much I look forward to this annual event. The unusual creativity behind the ATP launch of its World Tour makes a bold statement that tennis is a wonderful sport that remains annually deserving of grabbing our attention.

And this year the ATP has done it again by making Rafa and Roger do like Jesus and walk on water. I had a good laugh as I remembered that for a minute there one of Federer’s nicknames on some tennis boards was ‘JesusFed’, from the era when he seemed as if he could do no wrong. He has since been humbled too many times for that nickname to still be suitable. And yet I am still looking forward to his 2011 season. Watching him handily win the Qatar Open against his old rival Davydenko gave me hope that perhaps this year he will win his 17th Slam. Not to be greedy but I also hope he gets to 20.

But part of the excitement of a new season also involves getting a preview of some of the new faces that hope to cash in on tennis and get their turn in the spotlight. And one of the commitments I am going to try to keep this year is to become acquainted with more of the newbies, particularly those who seem to be promising stars in the making.

At the Brisbane International, we got an impressive view of the 23 year-old Andrea Petkovic. At 23 she is not exactly a newbie, but as Germany’s #1 player and with only one title thus far under her belt, I think she still falls in the newbie category. Certainly her Big Babe style was striking and caught my attention. I was disappointed that she lost to Petra Kvitova in the final, but the 20-year-old Kvitova showed us that she has serious game and is definitely also a newbie to watch in 2011.

I also watched many of the Hopman Cup matches on the Tennis Channel. Two things ruined the experience for me. The first was that the US disappointingly won largely by default, because of injuries sustained by Ana Ivanovic, Yaroslava Shvedova, and Francesca Schiavone. The second was that I had to suffer through another round of Isner-Mahut. I am sick of Isner-Mahut - even when one of them dresses as a woman! They’re probably sick of hearing about that long awful pointless disgusting match that ruined their bodies when it was all over. I hope that Isner and Mahut never ever meet up for the rest of 2011 so that I will not have to hear this silly story repeated ad nauseam.

This is not intended to minimize the hard work put in by Bethanie Mattek-Sands and John Isner. Despite the unfinished underarm tattoos and the soccer socks, I was a bit impressed with Mattek-Sands. Yes her forehand can still hit wild stray shots, but her doubles experience seems to have helped her aggressive singles game. She lost to Justine Henin in a most respectable 7-6 6-3 match in which the first set alone lasted almost 70 minutes. Not too shabby.

Of course in that sweltering weather I did not know what to make of those tall socks. But when she explained that she is fashion-inspired by Gwen Stefani and Pink, I figured that we should be seeing some harem pants before the year is over. As for the basketball shoes, let’s see how she continues to fare before I jump on that bandwagon. Although I secretly believe that there is a lot of junk science in the shoe construction business and she would probably play just as well using sneakers designed for basketball.

Despite being on the hunt for newbies, I have to admit that thus far in this new season, I have been most warmed by the win in Auckland by the 31-year-old Greta Arn. Arn has had a most unusual tennis career. Between changing the country that she was playing for (Hungary one minute, Germany the next), and then disappearing from tennis for a period of several years, she stayed mostly under the radar.

Then in 2007 Arn reappeared. She won at Estoril after qualifying – becoming the lowest ranked player to win a tourney that year. She re-emerged again at 2010 Wimbledon but by then I had given up on her. Watching her guts it out to win against the feisty 21-yearold Wickmayer made me take notice again. (It also helped that she demolished Sharapova along the way.) So in 2011 I will continue to root for the newbies, but my heart will always belong to the old farts.

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