star power

The Final Countdown – Doha

By Rishe Groner

It seems like only yesterday that we welcomed the dawn of the 2010 tennis season by rushing with joy to our seats in Melbourne Park, pushing away the crowds for Presidential seats at Hit for Haiti.

It’s been quite the year, as my aversion to any court that wasn’t bright blue was quelled as my travels enabled me to experience the life of a tennis jetsetter, from gate-crashing the semis at Roland Garros, to combing the streets of Barcelona for tennis during the height of the World Cup, to invigorating Flushing Meadows with my own brand of Aussie as a Smashzone volunteer.

As the WTA season draws to a close, we’ve put the boys on hold for a week consider the ladies, getting hot and sticky in Doha. Doha, for those of you who don’t know, is in Qatar. Qatar, for those of you who don’t know, is a nation that Australia played in a soccer friendly, which was my first ever soccer match. Just sharing the love. So now we have eight ladies left in the game, and they’re going to show us who really did best this season. (In case we still didn’t realise that Caro owns the universe, because she does.)

Love it or hate it, the WTA is unique for its, well, uniqueness. You never know who is going to win from one day to the next, and while some cringe at the unpredictability, others revel in it for the laughs, the dramas, and the gloriously bizarre on-court coaching. This year’s top eight is markedly different from last year’s, which says a lot about the nature of the tour. That’s all I’m going to say – you can read the grown up tennis blogs for all the commentary. But Caro owns the universe, did I mention? And I love Sam.

CARO

The girl played her heart out this year, and deserves every accolade she can get. She’s no Serena in star power, not to mention, well, power, but she has something else that few others in the WTA do: She’s a role model. In a world where girls go gaga over Miley Cyrus, here’s someone who knows where she’s at, works hard, stays fit, smiles and laughs, and does her best.

VERA

Vera first popped onto my radar this year when, falling asleep in a pool of my own drool as Sam battled her way to her first title of 2010, I espied a rather handsome looking young man in Ms Zvonareva’s box. It was the modelistic Sergey, Vera’s coach and essentially, the primary reason you should tune into any of her matches, unless you are like me and also love a good racquet smash. But that aside, this girl has had a helluva year. While the Grand Slams have shown up lots of surprise semifinalists and finalists (hello, Chinese ladies. Petra Kvitova? I’d forgotten about you..) we had Vera showing up at both Wimby and the USO, making it all the way. Well done. You now have Number Two, now go away and let Caro keep number one. I really couldn’t bear another “Slamless Number One” discussion, and I’m not going to defend you this time.

KIM

I love Kim. I really do. She made me very sad earlier this year when she “couldn’t find her racket” playing Nadia in Melbourne, but then all of a sudden it surfaced somewhere from the bottom of Jada’s toybox and she played like the champion she is all over again. Kim is as veteran, she owns the universe (look at her playing record against the rest of the Doha field, for example) and she’s also the grandma of this tourney. Which means she can’t win it, because it belongs to Caro. Did you hear me say, CARO! (Or Sam. But Caro needs the validation.)

FRAN

Wish this woman wasn’t so likeable, because honestly, what she did to me and other Sam fans should have put her on the crap-list forever. Instead, I kinda like her, and seriously how pretty was she at the player party? That’s all I can say about you, Frannie. I know you’re cool, but give me a bit of time to get over the hurt, okay?

SAM

Sam is the best, chuck out the rest. Last season she was all chokey and hadn’t had a few wins in a while, thanking her lucky stars for the top 20 seeding that gave her a decent run into the AO. In January, Channel Seven cut away from her destruction at the hands of Serena to avoid an Aussie embarrassment (we don’t like to realise we’re not good at anything). By June, the Aussie media were singing her praises and giving away free posters of our girl. And seriously, with her brilliant Aussie contingent penning songs to the tune of “Happy Little Vegemites,” how could you not love the girl? (Oh right, the biceps.)

JJ

Stop sulking, Jelena, and go home. We know you don’t want to be here, and there are about 800 women who would kill to be in your place. Let Na Li bounce her ponytail in here and show us her stuff, because you sure haven’t been.

LENA

Hi, Lena. Remember me? I was that girl screaming like a crazy woman when Justine whipped your butt in Melbourne. I’m that girl who always talks about how good you are, even when we sit there trying to fathom how you’ve hung around for so long and not accomplished that much. Here’s the deal, Lena. You won the Olympics, which means you can win this. Go ahead. Just, like, lose to Kimmy and Caro and Sammy, because they’re my true loves.

VIKA

After a tough year, Vika’s back in the top 10 which is a monumental effort considering the struggles she’s had, including her horrifying collapse on the court in the US Open. Whatever it is making her struggle in the heat, let’s hope it doesn’t resurface in Doha, because this girl’s persistence is going to be good to see in the round robin matches. Cos that’s as far as she’ll go. We’ll see you again next year, Vika.

The Friday Five: Agassi Should Not Be Left Off The Hook

By Maud Watson

The Agassi Admission – The big story this week was Andre Agassi’s shocking admission that he not only used crystal meth back in 1997, but that he lied to the ATP about it in order to avoid punishment.  While many are justly questioning the ATP’s actions, I think it’s wrong how many are praising Agassi for his honesty and easily letting him off the hook.  First, it doesn’t matter that it was a recreational drug vs. a performance-enhancing drug, and if there’s any doubt, see the examples of Martina Hingis and Richard Gasquet.  Second, the timing of Agassi’s announcement leaves much to be desired. Over the last two years, tennis has been rocked by gambling and drug scandals. Agassi has kept quiet for 12 years. Why he couldn’t wait until things had settled down more before making his admission is beyond me…but oh that’s right. He has a new book coming out, and making such an admission is a great way to drum up publicity to increase book sales. Maybe if Agassi had confessed during his “second career,” at a time when he still could have been given a meaningful punishment for his actions and given the ATP a chance to redeem themselves for their prior actions, I might not be questioning the sincerity of his confession now. In closing, I think it’s wrong that Agassi got away with crystal meth use in 1997, but it’s even more wrong that he can profit from it now while the ATP is left holding the bag. Hopefully the ATP will use this as an incentive to do what they should have done 12 years ago and punish Agassi, irrespective of his star power.(Watch the Agassi video on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/mpd/permalink/m28SCG9B8T1990 )

Do You Believe in Magic? – It looks like Frenchman Fabrice Santoro does. The player affectionately known as “the magician,” has admitted that he is now considering the possibility of competing in the 2010 Australian Open. The reason for his potential change of heart came when a reporter informed him that by competing in Melbourne, Santoro would become the first player to compete in a Grand Slam tournament across four decades. Now that’s some feat!

The British are Coming! – Taking a page out of the books of Novak Djokovic and Marat Safin, both of whom played the Hopman Cup before winning the Australian Open, Andy Murray has announced that he will also be making the trip to Perth to use the event as his Australian Open tune-up. He’ll be partnering with junior sensation Laura Robson, who will be looking to use the event as a chance to test her game against some of the WTA’s best. It’s a golden opportunity for both, and it’s a positive sign for British tennis that it can now field a team at this mixed event.

A Downward Spiral – After pulling out the WTA Tour Championships, it was revealed that the severity of Dinara Safina’s injury may force her to miss the Australian Open. This is just salt in the wound for a player who has helplessly watched the wheels fall off her game ever since Wimbledon. I personally feel for Safina who appears to have cracked under the unjust pressure put upon her by the critics claiming she never deserved the No. 1 ranking due to her lack of a major title. It doesn’t seem right that a player can support the tour by consistently playing the big tournaments and then be criticized for reaping the points she justly earned. Fingers crossed she can put all of this negativity behind her, get healthy, and start fresh in 2010.

Serena Wins the War – All year long there have been many battles for the No. 1 ranking, and in the end, it is Serena Williams who will take the top honor for 2009.  The deal was sealed Wednesday at the WTA Tour Championships when Dinara Safina was forced to retire from her opening match and withdraw from the tournament with a back injury. The No. 1 ranking is the icing on the cake for Serena who also added another two majors to her storybook career.