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LaRosa's Sweet Spot: April 1 , 2009

4/1/2009 1:38:00 PM

SWEET SPOT MAIN PAGE

April 1, 2009

It's official. Kim Clijsters is returning to the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. Seeing a gaping hole where champions used to be, and inspired by Lindsay Davenport's own successful return after having a baby, Clijsters decided to say what the heck, swap junior for a racquet and give it another go.

Now, in only a few short days, Kim has done some inspiring of her own. Accepting a wild card into the MPS Group Championships in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida next week, none other than Pebbles herself, Ashley Harkleroad!

Kim Clijsters, coming soon to a court near you.
Harkleroad had a storied 2008, clinching the Fed Cup quarters for the U.S., posing for Playboy and then going off to have a baby. A baby due in mere weeks, making her return to the court headline news.

"Lindsay and Kim have shown what strong women can do," said Harkleroad. "Besides, I lost a lot of points from Indian Wells and Miami."

The MSP is played on green clay. Could that be a little tough on a woman in her ninth month? "It'll be easier on my feet than hard court," said Ashley. "I'm just going to go out there and do my best."

Clijsters and Harkleroad aren't the only ones taking notice of the chaos at the top of the tour.

"It's embarrassing," said Virginia Wade. "Jelena Jankovic was #1 in the world going into the Australian Open and she loses in Miami to Gisela Dulko? Who loses to Gisela Dulko?" For this reason, Wade too has thrown her hat into the ring. She'll be dusting off the old racquets – literally.

"Oh, they're disgusting," said Wade. "But they couldn't hit a worse ball than the one Safina was swinging around like a dead cat in that match against Stosur."

The bottom of the women's game has dropped out so violently that it's even attracted the return of the original Russian bombshell, Anna Kournikova. "Back problem? What back problem?" Kournikova asked innocently. Later in a follow up call she allowed, "Dude, have you seen these girls serve? I can at least get the toss over my head."

Investigation into the full MPS draw shows some more familiar names, with players young and old crawling out of the woodwork for another crack at lowered expectation glory. This includes Amy Frazier, Jana Novotna, a fourth Maleeva sister, a girl from the 2001 Loyola Marymount University tennis team and four-time Grand Slam singles champion Shirley Fry.

"It's a wonderful opportunity," said Fry. "I mean, all I have to do is walk on court and they'll give me something shiny, right?"

Nicole Vaidisova.also signed up for a wild card but withdrew when it was pointed out to her that she never actually retired.

Looking further down the list, the names get a bit less familiar. But, tournament officials promise, the groundstrokes of these girls are as big as any man's. Like newcomers Guillerma Coria and Gaustina Gaudio.

"I go where the getting is good," said Guillerma. "Pass the Cerveza."

News of the mass influx of players isn't being taken too kindly by the tour's current top stars.

"These women, they think it is so easy to win win win," said Jankovic, nursing her wounds over a Grand Slam breakfast at Denny's. "But the depth in women's tennis is a much deeper depth than back when they were playing. Today, anyone in top 100 is very strong. You may have had Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Monica Seles, Gabriela Sabatini, Conchita Martinez, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, whatever. But when you take the court against very dangerous opponents like Kaia Kanepi and Anastasia Pavlychwhateverhernamewas, you have to be ready for war."

Two players not concerned with the influx of old favorites are Serena and Venus Williams. "I never even heard of those women," Serena said. "Ivanovic? Safina? Good luck, I hope to play them soon."

If you think you have what it takes to beat a top five player, you too can sign up for a wild card, the remainder of which will be dispersed on April Fool's Day.