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LaRosa's Sweet Spot: Nov 12, 2008

11/12/2008 12:48:00 PM

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Nov 12, 2008

After online betting and Brooke Shields, are there any dirtier words in tennis than round robin?

Yet here we are, allegedly enjoying the finest tennis of the year on both tours with the season ending championships, and what 's determining my so-called fun? Oh yeah.

First, some disclosure. I've always had issue with the YEC and the Masters Cup, and not just because of the format. I think it's ridiculous to hold a tournament so late in a grueling year and expect top players to even be at 75 percent. Whether they're physically drained or emotionally fried, it's a recipe for disaster. And it creates shocking upsets that are anything but. Dinara Safina looked like she'd trade a set for a nap her entire time on court. Ana Ivanovic was literally gasping for air. Rafael Nadal couldn't even board the plane.

That's not to say I don't want the YEC and Masters Cup to blow me away. The top 8 players battling it out in vicious bloodsport for prize money that could bail out two Wall Streets? I salivated along with everyone else as players qualified one by one and the countdown was on for those final few spots. And then when the field was set, and the groups were drawn, I was giddy with anticipation. 

Then, like it does every year, it all went poof.

And here's the why. In tennis, you lose. Period. Do not pass go, do not collect 200 dollars. Pack up your broken racquets and your bruised ego, don't let the locker room door hit you on the way out.

I get the motivation behind round robin. Players get more chances to strut their stuff, it favors the top two nearly guaranteeing them a spot in the semifinals, fans get more chances to see the marquee names slug it out.

But no.

If the Round Robin format was a TV show, it would be Heroes.
If you need a stronger argument against round robin, you don't need that good of a memory. It was a disaster last year, and not just because you needed a math degree to figure out who moved on to the next round. Because a stab volley through the heart only ended up being a flesh wound, all the stakes went right out the window.

It's like the TV show Heroes. The minute people could come back from the dead was the minute I tuned out. (Okay, the minute Hiro went to Japan and became a shogun was the minute I tuned out, but to be fair a lot of people came back from the dead that episode...)

Roger Federer going down to Gilles Simon is a headline. Roger Federer going down to Gilles Simon and then being able to come back tomorrow is beyond anticlimactic. Even Roger seemed to shrug his shoulders after that one. And therefore, so did I. 

And it's not just the shock that goes poof. It's the will to win or lose in any given moment. Take Ana Ivanovic. She played her heart out her first two matches. The third? Well why bother even showing up? What was Nadia Petrova playing for really? What's Jo-Wilfried Tsonga got to play for now, down 0-2 in his group?

I know there was a spurt of time when both events were single elimination tournaments. I say, baby come back. 

Let the top seed reap the reward of facing the last to qualify, and so on and so forth. Make it the top 12 again (as the Masters Cup was for a few years in the 80's) with first round byes for the top 4 if you want to give a little more cushion to the top players (or make it a top 16 as the YEC was). Sure, we may be denied seeing Svetlana Kuznetsova lose three times. But we might end up with juicy matches that stand the test of time. Or at least the test of patience.

This isn't all to say these tournaments can't be enjoyed as is. Of course not. You can't throw 8 of the best players in the world together and not get some good tennis. While I can't think of a particularly hypnotic match from this years Masters Cup (so far) or YEC (sorry Agnieszka Radwanska), the very best women's match I've ever seen live was the Amelie Mauresmo/Mary Pierce final of '05. And it proved to be a break-out tournament for Amelie, who'd go on to snag two of the next three Slams.

But if it were single elimination, Amelie would've been knocked out in the first round, having gone down to the very same Mary Pierce in round robin. So in the end, who was the better player? Would I trade the best match I've ever seen live, in which a player I love prevailed, for justice? You bet.

In the end, I want drama. I want high stakes. I want death! Death to round robin. With no chance of resurrection.
I also want you to know you can now join up with LaRosa's Sweet Spot on facebook (under blogs). Join me for cocktails and donuts every Friday night...okay, no cocktails or donuts, or Friday nights. But if you want to wear your addiction to tennis and snark like a badge, hop on board the party train. Tell your friends!