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LaRosa's Sweet Spot: April 29, 2009

4/29/2009 12:00:00 AM

LaRosa's Sweet Spot Main Page

April 29, 2009

Technique is all well and good, but give me a match where two players are fighting tooth and nail, spraying sweat and blood and a couple teeth all over the court, and I'll give you the world. Off-court, I'm far from Serena Williams' biggest fan, but on court her fight inspires, terrifies and thrills me. Shahar Peer hasn't made the biggest dent on tour the last couple years but her ferocious matches in '07 against Serena at the Australian and Nicole Vaidisova at the US Open have made me a fan for life. And who fights harder on the men's tour than Rafael Nadal? Regardless of the score, he will punch, kick and scratch out there like his life depended on it.

So when I see someone just cave, I want to punch. I want to kick. I want to scratch.

Marat Safin, as a big big fan, I say this from the bottom of my heart. Please retire.

It's as simple as this: I can't take it anymore. This week you coughed up your third 5-2 lead in a month (against Gael Monfils in Miami, Nicolas Lapentti in Monte Carlo and now Tommy Robredo in Rome). To say you could teach a master class on choking right now would be like saying Dr. Oz has a thing or two to say about keeping a healthy colon (that man loves his colons).

But that's not why I need you to do me this solid and pack it up. People choke. You should be allowed to dig yourself out of it, reclaim your killer instinct and redeem yourself (see: Amelie Mauresmo). Especially in what you've already announced is your final season on tour. You've earned the right. No, I'm punching your ticket because I watched you just outright quit on match point down against Robredo, letting his serve bounce lamely by you on your way to the net. And it's not the first time you've pulled this. To me, that's unforgivable.

Marat would be well served to take a good look
to his left and see the US Fed Cup team.

To be going out with such a pouty-faced whimper is even more garish juxtaposed with the fact that your sister Dinara is sitting pretty as the No. 1 player in the world. And she got to No. 1 by, oh I don't know, fighting back at 2-5 more than once at the French Open alone. It took her to the final. Fighting back at match point down took her to the final in Melbourne as well. Even when her game is off (in the same spectacular way yours careens off the rails), she fights. Just like you used to do.

Marat, you're awesome. And in my mind you'll always be awesome. But I feel like I'm watching someone do their final lap with a cigarette in one hand and a bottle of Stoli in the other. I can't fight for someone who doesn't fight for himself.

While I don't see Marat camped in front of the TV all weekend watching Fed Cup, he'd be well served to get the U.S./Czech semi on DVD to see what real guts are. For the second straight tie, tennis's answer to the Bad News Bears fought and fought and fought some more and found their way to glory.

With Venus and Serena taking a powder, Mary Joe Fernandez threw first time Fed Cuppers Bethanie-Mattek Sands and Alexa Glatch under the bus…er…into the fire and said, listen, just go have fun. Mattek-Sands had no fun, striking out in both of her singles matches. Glatch however just went for it, producing a surprise win in her first match that would only be eclipsed by her even more shocking win in her second.

Finding themselves with a live fifth rubber, all hopes rested on No. 1 doubles player and newly minted American Liezel Huber. Still, Huber and (understandably deflated) partner Mattek-Sands found themselves at match point down in the second. Instead of caving, they fought to hold serve. And then fought to break. Before they knew it, they'd taken it to a third set. One they were so worked up for they looked like pitbulls at a Michael Vick picnic.

Their reward? The Bad News Bears are going to the Fed Cup final. Do they have a chance against Italy without a Williams sister on their plane? Maybe not. But don't bother telling them that.

Is Fed Cup my favorite thing in the world? No. I'd much rather be watching a Safin match. But come November, I know who I'll be rooting for. The U.S. team fought for my attention. And they won it.

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Top Ten Fighters on Tour

10. Gilles Simon
9. Dinara Safina
8. Shahar Peer
7. Andy Murray
6. Elena Dementieva
5. David Ferrer
4. Venus Williams
3. Maria Sharapova
2. Serena Williams
1. Rafael Nadal