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LaRosa's Sweet Spot: March 18, 2009

3/18/2009 1:06:00 PM

LaRosa's Sweet Spot Main page

March 18, 2009

What came first, the chicken or the egg? Or, in tennis terms, what came first, our love of top players or the tennis that got them there?

This week at Indian Wells, as the top seeds of the WTA fell like Z-listers on Dancing with the Stars and the round of 16 resembled a qualifying draw at a Tier V tournament, tongues wagged and heads shook over the state of women's tennis and the entertainment value of the event itself.

Rather than hit out (once again) at the inability of the top women to seize the reins of their sport, how about we focus on the young women coming up behind them who don't seem to have the same problem? And the unpredictability, gusto and, dare I say pizzazz, they're lending to one of the biggest tournaments of the year.

Jelena Jankovic couldn't escape the youth brigade in Indian Wells.
We knew we could count on a couple of young guns to make hay. Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka have proven to not only have big games but a strength of will that has them each knocking on the door of the top ten. Plus they haven't had a chance to burn out yet (that apparently happens at 20). So their success here is no huge surprise.

But how about the understudies to the understudies who have done all the real damage this last week? Like junior phenom Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who took recent #1 Jelena Jankovic out in straight sets. She stepped it up on a grand stage and showed just how much she's fulfilling her promise.

Or how about That Other Radwanaka, Urszula? The conqueror of Svetlana Kuznetsova may be the lesser known of the sisters, but a la Serena, the buzz on her is that that's only because that other chick came first. And she beat big sis Agnieszka last month in Dubai.

Beyond the youngins with nothing but unfettered upward momentum, the Swiss cheesiness of Indian Wells has allowed a couple struggling players to resurrect form of old. In her match against Azarenka, Shahar Peer looked to not only rebound nicely from the whole Dubai debacle but appeared to have been restored to that gutsy fighter we fell in love with two years ago. And Ana Ivanovic, who is technically a top player masquerading as draw filler, is having her best tournament since the French Open (which, also technically, isn't saying much).

Drama!

Of course no one wants to see top players capable of fireworks play beneath themselves and limp away. And limp they did. Elena Dementieva said she was exhausted and shouldn't have come. Jankovic said she needed a magic wand to fix what ails her. And Kuznetsova, well, I can't find a single comment from her after her loss. Perhaps she said it all beforehand when she said she was tired of being a bride's maid at this tournament. Your wish is granted. No magic wand required.

But look at the upside. When the cats are away, the mice will play.

Nowhere was this best evidenced than in Melbourne, site of the match of the year so far on the women's side. Jelena Dokic and Alisa Kleybanova rocked the Australian Open with a marathon match that was hard-hitting and smart, clean and emotional. All without a seed in sight.

Now, I can understand the complaining of the fair-weather fans who only know the Williams sisters (but can't tell them apart), that there's a blond Russian beauty (hey, doesn't she date Enrique Iglesias?) or who show up asking which one dated Matthew Perry. I understand the frustration of the organizers who are trying to sell these jack a's tickets. And I understand the panic of TV execs who are trying to justify to their bosses why Llagostera Vives/Pavlyuchenkova should not be preempted for flyfishing.

But tennis fans, true tennis fans, should take a second before throwing their TV out the window and their stock in women's tennis in the shredder. In fact, their hissy fits might cost them a front row seat to some truly riveting tennis.

Perhaps the remaining top seeds will clear the brush and all will be right with the world come the final. But you'll have to forgive me when I say, at least in this backwards Bizarro tournament, I certainly hope not.