"I´ve got you under my skin.
I´ve got you deep in the heart of me. So deep in my heart that you´re really a part of me.
I´ve got you under my skin."
- Frank Sinatra
"I HATE YOU SO MUCH RIGHT NOW!"
Are you ready to rumble?
As of this writing, Belgians Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters are in Brisbane on a collision course for their first meeting since Wimbledon 2006. I'm giggly with anticipation. Not because I love a good rivalry, but because I love a good feud.
And let's face it: there's a difference.
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are a rivalry. They play their hearts out, lift each other to higher heights, but then they can hop on a magic carpet together in the Middle East like Aladdin and Princess Jasmine (I'll let you decide who's who). Martina Navratilova can beat Chris Evert in an epic Wimbledon clash, but then Chris can reward her at the net with a hair smoosh.
But there will be no magic carpet rides for Kim and Justine. No smooshing of the hair at net, no matter how much bad blood they say has long since dried up from back in the day. We know from watching CSI that you can never really get rid of it. It stays in the floorboards no matter how hard you try scrubbing it out with well-wishes to the other person on your websites or compliments about them to the press. Sure, Kim is a mom now, and Justine is in her happy place, but can they ever really Lady MacBeth the years Justine simmered over being forced to play Jan Brady to Kim's Marcia Marcia Marcia in their home country, regardless of how many more Slams Jan won? Or the barrage of doping accusations Justine faced after the '03 US Open, whipped up after Clijsters' dad marveled to the press at how buffed up she'd become in such a short time? No way. And it fills me with joy.
Why relish other people's misery, you ask. Why revel in negativity? Because I'm a terrible person, that's why. I make no bones. I love it. I love it when players talk smack. I love it when anti-chemistry bubbles over between two alpha dogs (and aren't all tennis players alpha dogs?), when they use the ball the way they'd brandish a kitchen knife, stabbing at each other until there's nothing left but a heap of pulp and a head tie.
And it's not just the Belgians. Take another feud masquerading as a rivalry, Jelena Jankovic and Marion Bartoli. The two spent '09 tossing verbal machetes at each other, starting with the Frenchwoman in Stanford answering a reporter's question of who she'd rather face next: "I always beat Jankovic so who do you think I want to play?" Jankovic's reply, "She talks like she's Serena Williams. She's not like my biggest rival or someone I look up to or I'm scared of. She's just one of the players on tour, not a big name, or someone who is making the big results or headlines in the game. Bartoli is going to get it tomorrow." She didn't, but the match was clearly fraught with tension, the kind I could soak in like a warm bubble bath for days.
Serena Williams likes a good feud. She and Martina Hingis enjoyed a classic (check out this gem from the '99 US Open: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3uY3wesJmQ). Now, you could argue Justine's return renews an old feud, and you'd have some ammo after Justine's Talk to the Hand moment at the '03 French Open, but when it comes to pure anti-chemistry, no one brings out Serena's horns more viscerally than Maria Sharapova. Sure, in an '07 People Magazine interview, Serena's reply to the question "name something overrated" was Maria's name, and okay, maybe Maria's coach Michael Joyce was caught on camera during a changeover nearly calling Serena the B word, but they don't care about that. This one is strictly about turf, plain and simple. They're each the queen of women's tennis, depending on who you ask. They make the most ad money, they court the most press. And they have the two strongest wills on tour (is there a higher level than alpha?). If you don't think it's personal, you didn't watch the '07 Australian Open. Serena hunted her like a panther, and Maria replied with, well, this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k2Qea_uBBAU
Rivals and BFF
Of course feuds aren't just for chicks. Guys get in on the action too. And up the ante. Like when Roger Federer told Novak Djokovic's parents to be quiet in Monte Carlo in '08 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpd23dTcT6c). That was back when Nole and Rog were feuding. But that's all in the past now as Novak's seemingly waved the white flag to both Fed and another near-feuder Andy Roddick, who didn't take kindly to the Serb's '08 US Open victory speech and showed him so at Indian Wells in '09. No, Federer's feud now is with Andy Murray. The combination of a winning H2H against the Swiss and a perceived lack of the proper respect from the youngin' has lead to so much verbal volleying, from Federer after losing to the Scot in Dubai in '08 ("I don't think he has changed his game a whole lot since the first time I played him and I really thought he would have. In a 15-year career, you want to look to win a point more often, rather than wait for the other guy to miss. Who knows, he might surprise us all.") and Murray, heading into Wimbledon '09 (“A lot of the times I’ve beaten him, he has said negative things about me. It doesn’t bother me. He doesn’t lose that often and it can be tough when you go into a press conference afterwards.”). You can bet every time these two take the court, they'll not only want to win, they'll also want the other one to run face first into the Rolex scoreboard losing.
The newest feud on the block belongs to Lleyton Hewitt and Next Great Aussie Hope Bernard Tomic. Hewitt asked Tomic if he wanted to hit last year at Wimbledon, and being turned down ignited a hissy slapfight that's escalated to suggestions of racial bias and bullying. On Tuesday, Papa Tomic (who seems to enjoy hurling gasoline on the fire) said 'Perhaps Lleyton would like to settle his differences with Bernard, who's a minor, on the tennis court. We look forward to that day." As do I.
It, and all these back alley brawls, could come to pass at the Australian Open. But first we have the little matter of the Brisbane final, which will be contested by, please god, Kim and Justine. Believe what you want about how over it all they really are. But know this: There will be blood. And giggles.
Are you a terrible person, too? Follow me at twitter.com/JamesLaRosa.
Catch up on all the sweet spots