Friday, March 23, 2007

Retirement watch -- er, glimpse

It's Kim Clijster's last year on the pro women's circuit, and she seems to want every appearance to count. That's because she won't be playing a whole lot this year. From the wires:

"Plagued by injuries in recent years, Clijsters plans to marry American basketball player Brian Lynch on July 14 in her hometown of Bree, Belgium. She'll skip the French Open to prepare for the wedding, and she said this week she may miss the U.S. Open because of the honeymoon."

I'll say it again: Skipping the Slams in your final year is a little suspicious. The one Grand Slam you win is only a "maybe" on your calendar? The other, that you've come painfully close to winning is a "maybe never year?"
Besides the idea that she may return next year is the other option: Kim Clijsters hates being a tennis player. It's possible to be quite good at something, and hope you never have to do it again. I can draw on my own experience here. Being a five-foot-three fashion model totally drained me. Finally, at the age of 28, I decided to become a copy editor, get hitched and start a tennis blog. But you know what? I don't miss a minute of 'the life.'

How to make tennis 'cool'

From the supergeniuses who brought you round-robin ATP events:

"Inside a stark white building in downtown Miami, models strut outfits that glow under the black lights, a DJ spins club classics and tennis players blast backhand shots across the darkened court.
In an effort to attract a younger crowd to a sport known for its formality, Sony Ericsson -- which sponsors the WTA tour and this week's tournament on Key Biscayne -- has created a series of events simply called Night Tennis, combining fashion, club culture and the ball-and-racquet sport. Organizers said more than 10,000 people requested tickets. The event in Miami is being held in a space typically used for photo shoots and music videos. Fluorescent black lights illuminate players' white shirts and neon tape along the rackets' edges. Spectators see flashes of neon orange and green when rackets are swung and the ball sails. It's so dark, a player's face is only detectable when he smiles. Players knock underhand serves from a backcourt marked in neon orange lines. To keep serving, a server must win the next point. Matches consist of three, three-minute games that are broken up with fashion shows and followed by a party into the early hours of the morning."

So, were those free tickets, by any chance?
No, seriously, club tennis is cool. I mean, Cool! Instead of the Bryan brothers bumping each other when they win, they can jump into the crowd, mosh pit-style. Not only can Venus Williams introduce her new line of tennis year in her next match, she can play in three-inch heels. And what will make this really cool (COOL!) are those strobe lights, which will make it really easy to track a ball comin' right at ya.
It's true: Tennis is waning in popularity, and has been for some time. What makes this latest attempt of popularizing tennis so sad is that tennis officials seem to think that showing people less tennis is the answer. The fact is that the sport of tennis doesn't need to be changed, but the way it's organized does. Only tennis wouldn't take full advantage of larger-than-life stars like Maria Sharapova, Andy Roddick, the Williamses, and Rafael Nadal. Roger Federer is potentially the best player ever, and playing right now, and there are sports fans who don't know who he is. Hell, even womens' soccer got some mileage from Brandi Chastain taking off her shirt.
Officials seemed to think at first that flooding the schedule with tournaments was a good call. When they realized that players were getting injured, or imposing their own vacations, they decided on stupid changes like on-court coaching, round-robin tournaments that they can't even understand, and now, club tennis. The worst part about these changes is that officials are taking the unique things about tennis and eliminating them, in order to make tennis like other sports.
To the powers that be: If you're not interested in drawing attention to tennis, the sport, here's an idea. Changeover bumps! That's right. Just allow two players to bump during a changeover, and if a brawl breaks out, that's all right, too. Hell, that's even better!
Club tennis. Good lord.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Cold feet?

Item: Kim Clijsters, playing her final season before retiring from the women's tennis tour, will miss this year's French Open to prepare for her marriage in July.The 23-year-old Belgian, a two-time runner-up at Roland Garros, had been expected to skip the event to concentrate on Wimbledon, the one Grand Slam in which she never reached the final.

I smell something pungent in the air. Is it ... can't be ... not from her, but that's definitely ... bullshit. Are you really retiring, Kim? Because, in case you hadn't noticed, you're not Lindsay Davenport. You don't hate clay. In fact, you were in the French Open final once -- nay, twice. Not at all curious about whether you can win the French? You're okay with "close enough"?
Or, are you thinking twice about retiring? This is your final year, you say, but you're tossing aside Grand Slams like ... well, like you've won a bunch. You haven't. I hope you're having second thoughts.
Another thing, which is exactly none of my business, but what is your rush with getting married? You're 23 years old. I'm sure young Brian is a worthy mate, but let's not forget the bullet you dodged with Lleyton.

Monday, March 05, 2007

All about the (Mr.) Benjamins, Vol. III

The kindly gentlemen at the All England Lawn and Tennis Club have finally entered the 21st century (although they are still insisting on white gear. Ah well, it is before Labor Day) and are now matching womens prize money with the men. It's a nice gesture, and done for no other reason, I suspect, than the silence the protests of players, fans and the Martha Burkes of the world. Don't get me wrong, it's about time. Know what else it's about time for? It's about time for the ladies to play five sets.
Tennis fans want tennis, for the hundredth time. And even if you're a Martina Hingis fan, it's really not fun to see her make a quarterfinal run -- if she's been on court for a grand total of 90 minutes through the first week. Naysayers complain that women aren't as fit as the men, that they can't hold up. Truth time: the women's field isn't as deep as it was the last time they were playing best-of-five sets. And as far as fitness goes, the women's top 10 right now aren't exactly couch potatoes. More to the point, the female players are as fit as ever. This seems the perfect time to experiment with best-of-five matches.
Now, on this topic, Billie Jean King scoffs, and says: "Entertainers don't get paid by the hour." Every word true, Billie. Quality has to count for something here. They don't get paid based on their sex either. Por ejemplo, male comedian, female comedian. They tell the same jokes, they get the same laughs. Right? Male tennis player, female tennis player. Women's matches take less time, because they're expected to perform for a shorter time. They get the same money. Think about it.
While women's equality is a fine goal to aspire to, we should seek it fully, warts (and work) and all. Those fans are putting out their hard-earned money, too. Give 'em a show.