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LaRosa's Sweet Spot: Feb 4, 2009

2/4/2009 7:33:00 PM

LaRosa's Sweet Spot Main Page

Feb 4, 2009

You don't know what you've got till it's gone. But if you really want to feel the pain, wait until it's tantalizingly close to coming back.

Maria Sharapova was missed at the U.S. Open and Year End Championships, which she was forced to skip to rest her ailing right shoulder. She was greatly missed as the defending champion at the Australian Open, which she pulled out of due to lack of match play. And fans are in panic mode now that her camp formally announced today that she won't be playing the Paris Indoors next week. Not so formal, rumblings that she'll be a no show for Dubai as well. 

With the gaggle of also-rans clogging up the WTA top ten, Maria's absence has been deeply felt, in the stands, on the tube and in the corporate office. But I'm worried less for the tour now than for Maria herself. This injury is clearly much more serious than first presented. Jennifer Capriati was forced to pull out of an exhibition match against Maria in Florida back in '04 because of a right shoulder injury, one several surgeries have yet to correct. I'm getting the Very Bad Feeling that it was passed to the Russian like a baton. Indian Wells and Miami will be monster barometers of the State of Maria. If she's not 100% by then, it would be hard to see her testing that shoulder on clay. Which would mean she'd be out of action for almost a year. 

Has Maria been passed Jennifer Capriati's bad shoulder?
Sharapova isn't the only Grand Slam champion teasing us with a return. Kim Clijsters is allegedly dipping her toe onto the court again in a series of exhibitions slated for this year. In addition to motherhood, the health of Kim's dad had hastened her off the court. With his recent passing, word on the street is she's looking to tennis for a little therapy. 

To put it bluntly, I'm a huge Clijsters fan. On the court, she was an unparalleled defensive player. But she could turn it around in a heartbeat and hit the most amazing crosscourt screamer. She invented the split (often imitated, never duplicated). And few players do the buggy whip like she does. Off the court, she was just fun. She always had a smile for press and fellow players alike. To see her at even the rare tour stop would be phenomenal. And PS, she's only 25. She could have another 2005 in her if she wanted.

In the "Anything you can do, I can do better" two-step of their relationship, without which it would be like a day without orange juice, Justine Henin announced the very next day that she too would be playing an exhibition. I'm less inclined the think she'll be back than that she wanted to steal a little of her countrywoman's thunder (okay, I don't really believe that either but I love imagining her as a little Brain from Pinky and the Brain.). Still her fans can only be salivating. My mouth is dry on this one, but Henin can rest assured that the CEO spot she vacated when she left is still pretty much up for grabs.

Banned for two years for testing positive for the white stuff, Martina Hingis said she's never coming back anyway so nyah. Cut to: her in a tennis skirt at a pre-Wimby exhibition (since it wasn't an officially sanctioned tour event, she was permitted to play). For many, there's a countdown clock to Wimbledon '09, when her two year suspension is up. Now that's a return I would like to see. If for no other reason than she's a writer's dream. The stuff that come out of her mouth might as well have fuses on them. Where Hingis goes, a nuclear winter follows. 
What? There's more? How about two-time Slam champ Mary Pierce, who's been teasing us with her return since the first Bush was in office. She's been sidelined with a knee injury suffered most spectacularly against Vera Zvonareva in perhaps the most distressing youtube clip not involving two cups. She was poised to take a swing at the Beijing Olympics but changed her plans. Mary Mary, Why Ya Buggin'? Just get back already. Show these chicks what a real forehand looks like.

So there are lots of possible pit stops along the Comeback Trail in '09. Sadly, there are no men of Grand Slam note to speculate about. Once guys leave, they never come back. At least that's what my mama says.