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LaRosa's Sweet Spot: Oct 22, 2008

10/22/2008 1:01:00 PM

Oct 22, 2008

There's a great article in the new issue of TENNIS Magazine by Tom Perrotta about the state of the women's tour today. It basically boils down to millions and millions of dollars worth of opportunity for the one lucky player with the cojones to step up, take charge and cash in. And how that person will show up, well...any day now.

It's true. With all that equal prize money to roll around in now, not to mention endorsements up the wazoo, the WTA really is a giant oyster ready to be shucked. Sadly, due to injuries, fatigue or simple mental collapse, ain't no one around to spit shine that pearl. 

And we fans are losing out. As we've seen with the retirement of Justine Henin, without a bunny to chase, the rest of the greyhounds are a hot mess, resorting more to chasing their own tails. The tour knows it too, which is why I suspect that 'Looking for a Hero?' campaign was meant as much for the players as it was for the fans.

So who's going to be our savior?

Who is going to be the WTA's Hero?
Our first candidate, who the article seemed to pitch, is Ana Ivanovic. She got too much too soon and once she settles down and matures a little more, she's going to be the force to reckon with. I'm not seeing it. While I agree she's crazy talented and will surely be a top 5 mainstay, she seems to hit a lot harder than she thinks out there. And how many times are we going to have to see her crack under pressure (her first French Open final, her first week at #1) before we start to question that alleged mental toughness? Still, her Adje! is often imitated, never duplicated.

In looking for a hero, it's tempting to think of Dinara Safina, who was firmly entrenched in the top twenty before suddenly realizing her toxic temper and willingness to play bridesmaid might in fact be (wha..?) holding her back. But I think she's still a wolf in sheep's clothing. She'll take a rifle out in some match and go postal, mark my words. I equate her '08 run more to Nadia Petrova's in '06. An incredible career highlight, and certainly repeatable, but not a career.

Serena's on the cover of said TENNIS issue, fresh off her US Open win. Even though she's got "#1 Again" underneath her, it's already history. You can't help injuries, and without her most recent troubles I can't help but think she would've finished the year as #1. And I would've been happy about that. When it comes to pure strength, and strength of will, no one can touch her. But will we see her healthy enough to once again play every Slam in '09? I'm not convinced. And you can't be #1 without it.

Judging by current form, Jelena Jankovic has won the race. And the Race. She's a fan favorite who lays it all out there, including herself. She's got the personality, she's got the skills. And she's not afraid to speak her mind, which is a refreshing trait in a buttoned up tour. And she sure does play enough tournaments. But without one great big monster weapon, she'll have to settle with being a solid #2. And the bane of Alona Bondarenko's existence (9-0 H2H. Adje! Yeah, see, no, it's just not as good as Ana's).

My vote for the WTA's once and future #1 is easy to overlook considering she hasn't played in months. But I'm going with Maria Sharapova. Provided her shoulder doesn't rip off mid-serve when she returns, the RussiAmerican has it all. She's got the iron will, she's got the big weapons, she's got the fear factor. She's young enough, committed enough and adept enough on all surfaces. Love her or hate her, she's got the Champion's Mentality. I'd say she won't defend her Australian Open title, but I also didn't think she'd come off the bench so quickly to stick it to Justine at last year's YEC. And then turn around and demolish the entire Melbourne field.

Still, however long it takes her to shake the rust, she'll shake it. And then everyone else will be chasing a new bunny. One who, I believe, will be the hero the tour's been looking for (ironic as she was also the one complaining about being forced to be in that campaign...). Sharapova will, in my opinion, be the one spit shining that pearl until she can see herself in it (making it twice as valuable!) 

And frankly, the girl needs the money, doesn't she?