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LaRosa's Sweet Spot: Oct 14, 2009

10/14/2009 12:00:00 AM

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Oct 14, 2009


Dinara Safina posts the biggest loss of a world No 1 in Open Era history. Players you've never heard of win tournaments you've never heard of. Andy Roddick denounces the length of the season and within 24 hours crumples in a heap. Ah, fall. While seeds tumble from tournaments like crisp autumn leaves, the one thing you can absolutely count on is the flurry of stories about This Time of Year.

"The Season's Too Long!" "Injuries Are Crippling the Sport!" "Players Need to Quit Complaining!" "There's No Easy Fix!" "Here's the Fix!" "Has Anyone Seen My Gun?"

That last one was mine, because as sure as these stories are, so is my annual desire to shoot myself in the face.

Who needs rest?

Can you handle the truth? Here it is. This is all generated by the media. What? I know! I don't blame them (and by them I'm including me). The US Open is dead and buried, and for the next two months, while there's lots of tennis to be played, there's not always a ton of consequence. We need story and we need it now. Sure there's some tournaments with big points at stake, yeah maybe there's some jockeying for that elusive LAST YEC/MASTERS CUP SLOT! But really, are you chomping at the bit to see if Marion Bartoli and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will make the cut?

So we're desperate. And these top players either being burned out or broken down doesn't help. (God bless Serena Williams and her tirade, apology tour, book tour, Home Shopping tour, Dolphins purchase, Tampax commercial, return to No 1, ITF investigation and nude ESPN cover, but there's only so much one woman can do.) I may love Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Janko Tipsarevic, but it's the top players that get the mouse clicks. And when they're not around, editors get itchy. So why not write about WHY they're not around?

That's not to say injuries are a crock. These people are run ragged, absolutely. But not at knife point. Especially not the ones bringing in millions. So before sounding the alarm for them, let me implore the media, and you my dear friends, to change your perspective. Grab fall tennis by the short hairs and enjoy it for the beautiful disaster it is.

Your guess is as good as mine.

Where else are you going to see a woman old enough to be your mom destroy a field of ground up spring chickens to capture a tour title? Where else are you going to see players ranked 200, 300 in the world scoring the biggest victories of their lives? Kai-Chen Chang. Edouard Roger-Vasselin. Shuai Zhang. Who are these people? I don't know. But for a brief, shining moment, somebody did. And wasn't that just great?

The fall may inspire quitters (Ana Ivanovic and Amelie Mauresmo both pulled the plugs on their years - and in Mauresmo's case possibly her entire career), but it also brings out the opportunists. There's a lot of chum in the water, and with the sharks away (or chum themselves), the scavengers will play.

Mikhail Youzhny's suddenly sprung to life, making the final of Tokyo without a single self-inflicted concussion. Nadia Petrova might as well wear a sash that says Miss Asian Swing, battling into the YEC last fall and this fall scalping Serena (another headline!) in Beijing. And, Novak Djokovic, inexplicably the healthiest guy on tour (can someone please tell me when this happened?), is making serious hay, snatching the Beijing crown and the No 3 spot from a sidelined Andy Murray. Shahar Peer, Gilles Simon, Agnieszka Radwanska…they love the fall. They're scrappers.

And here's the thing about scavengers. They play dirty. Maybe they're starving from watching the bigger fish feast all year. Maybe they're punch drunk. Maybe they're just pissed off. But there's a viciousness to the final tournaments of the year that the real hoity toity tennis fans (you know who they are) fail to appreciate. I was up until 2 a.m. last night watching Gael Monfils and Lleyton Hewitt slug it out in Shanghai, I'm exhausted typing this now but it was so worth it. So was watching Maria Sharapova ditch her abbreviated service motion in Tokyo because she wasn't going out without a fight. And without a title in '09.

If I've convinced you of nothing, if exhausted, broken down, blood-soaked tennis isn't your thing, if you're still hell bent on trashing tennis in the fall and whining about everything it lacks, remember this: as soon as that last ball is played at the YEC and the Masters Cup and you find yourself faced with Nanny reruns or (gasp) another sport, you'll start to fiend for live tennis like the good little addict you are. You'll be hawking that calendar counting down the days till Australia, forced to face your own life and all the many other meaningful things you could and should be doing with it.

So appreciate this mess while you have it.

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Want to know what exhausted, broken down, blood-soaked tennis writing looks like? Follow me at twitter.com/JamesLaRosa.