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LaRosa's Sweet Spot: Dec 23, 2009

12/23/2009 12:00:00 AM

Larosa's Sweet Spot Main Page


Dec 23, 2009


Roger Federer and Serena Williams have been feted left right and center over the last couple weeks, but sadly this is one year-end list they didn't make. This week the Sweet Spot celebrates those who really bled for our entertainment the last twelve months. The broken. The battered. The betrayed. The outlandishly twisted. The deliciously evil. The downright tortured. AKA, the fun ones. Ladies and gentlemen, THE MOST COMPELLING CHARACTERS OF 2009.

(Attn: Barbara Walters' lawyers, I don't call them Fascinating so you can't sue.)

Boring no longer

10. NIKOLAY DAVYDENKO

The World Tour Finals showed the Russian at his absolute best (beating Nadal, del Potro and Federer to do it), and in this What have you done for me lately world, everyone hurled themselves at him with gleeful abandon. He finally put this whole betting thing behind him! But did he? In clearing Nikolay of wrongdoing, investigators simply admitted they'd run out of options after phone records which were initially withheld were ultimately destroyed. So the stink, for some, lingers on. Which makes a guy who many have crowned the most boring man in tennis suddenly a lot more intriguing. But how bad could he be with a wife like Irina? She shows how tennis spouses should be – on their feet and screaming. Play on, playa.

9. STEFFI GRAF

Yeah, yeah, this was the year of Andre. And thanks to about a thousand and three media appearances (I may be under-representing), we know exactly how he felt, feels and will will about anything and everything ever again. But what of The Good Wife sitting silently by his side through it all? Okay she may have said a few words to 60 Minutes, posed for a People Magazine cover, but really, do we have any real bead on where her head is at? Monica Seles also released a book this year. You don't remember it because she didn't do meth, but she does talk about trying to recover from The Stabbing, thanks to a deranged fan of Graf's. So, you know, lots to talk about. Does it need to be a book? Nah, just swing by the Sweet Spot Steffi. We'll treat you right. Here, have some cocoa.

8. ERNESTS GULBIS

What can you say about a kid who, while busy falling well below the expectations for someone with so much talent, manages to find the time to both allegedly befriend ladies of the night right before the Stockholm Open (landing him in the Swedish clink overnight) AND blow off his Paris qualifying match because he just plum forgot he was entered? A lot.

7. JELENA JANKOVIC

This hasn't been the Serb's best year. But it has been, perhaps, her most revealing. Going from World No 1 to barely scraping the top ten kicked the excuse machine into overdrive, and her colleagues had had enough. Jelena got into it in the press with Marion Bartoli (another one whose excuse cup runneth over), and managed to be on the receiving end of not one but two swipes by Maria Sharapova, one at a U.S. Open press conference, the other this gem: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nqIe7F8JVxg Suddenly it became open season on the Serb, recasting her from smiling Jumbotron gawker to the role of villainess in the soap opera that is the WTA. FYI, that's always my favorite character.

6. RAFAEL NADAL

He went from unbeatable to mortal, his body's betrayal (and his parents' split) leading to the upset of the decade. Suddenly a guy who's experienced nothing but upward trajectory was suddenly in the middle of an existential crisis. One that played out for months on front pages around the world, crescendoing into a deafening symphony as he went winless at the WTF's. He finished the year on a high note by leading Spain to its second straight Davis Cup title, but there are still so many question marks heading into 2010. It makes RafaNation nervous, it makes tennis nervous, it makes me nervous. That my friends is called drama.

5. ROBIN SODERLING

You already didn't like him for mocking Nadal at Wimbledon in '07, but you haaaaaated him after he beat him at the French. Accounts of Robin have ranged from "I asked around the locker room; almost nobody had anything nice to say about him" (said by Rafa himself), to "unpopular," said by nearly every article about the Swede. He's brash, he's abrasive, he's cocky, and guess what? He doesn't care what you think about him. Who loves him exactly? Me.

4. MARIA SHARAPOVA

Another one who was on top of the world, only to see it fall apart because of injury. But unlike Nadal, when Maria came back, she wasn't losing just to top tier players. She was in boxing match after boxing match with girls she used to own, much of that thanks to a Niagara Falls of double faults she sprayed across the globe. Her biggest weapon now her biggest liability (she served a US Open record 21 DFs in her match against Oudin alone), she was left with nothing but that infamous fight, which was on frightening display. Sometimes it was a wonder to behold (her French Open run was the definition of gritty), sometimes it was a full-on trainwreck (after her loss to Oudin, Sharapova stated she "just couldn't decelerate today"). But it was never boring.

3. THE DOKICS

She fled an abusive father to return to the winner's circle in one of the most affecting stories of '09. He went to prison after threatening to blow up the Australian Embassy. They're Jelena and Damir, and they're coming soon to E! in a brand new reality show, Keeping Up With the Dokics! Follow the hijinks as Damir threatens a hunger strike! Laugh along with Jelena as a dead drug dealer's family demands her Aussie Open prize money! When it comes to cracked-out entertainment, nothing else came close. Pass the popcorn.

2. THIS WOMAN

The most famous line judge in tennis

1. DINARA SAFINA

She didn't have injury to blame. No psychotic parent. No scandal or bad attitude – in fact, she's a pretty darn likable person. Which made the psychological warfare Dinara Safina endured in '09 all the more compelling. She spent much of the year ranked No 1, and just as long defending her right to be there, taking jabs by reporters and Serena Williams herself. While she excelled on the regular tour, she only fed the fire by meeting her end on the Grand stage in spectacular fashion – spanked by Serena at the AO, devoured by herself at the French (inhaling one contempt-ridden glare after another from coach Zeljko Krajan), full-on pantsed by Venus at Wimbledon (she won one game) and dying several awfully public three-set deaths at the US Open. When she was finally put down, it wasn't on Arthur Ashe, it was over on Armstrong where she was unceremoniously dumped in a schedule crunch. In the fall, she ate the biggest loss of a No 1, to No 226 Zhang Shuai. We'd learn later Safina was struggling with a bad back (okay maybe Dinara did have injury to blame), which flared up after two games at the YEC, forcing her to withdraw from the tournament and kiss the year end No 1 ranking that she'd put up with all this crap for good-bye. Our last image of her is in tears, and after her baffling emotional rollercoaster of a year, that made the most sense of all. Dinara, you didn't finish the year #1, but you're the Sweet Spot's Most Compelling Character of 2009. Take a bow, Dinara. Just don't hurt yourself.

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Who were your most Fascinating peeps? (That's right Barbara, I said it!) Drop me a tweet at twitter.com/JamesLaRosa.