Monday September 21st, 2009

Four thoughts from the never-ending drama of the tennis world:

1. "Shocking" would not be the word most of us would use to describe the reportedly imminent return of Justine Henin. The parallels with Kim Clijsters have always been unavoidable. Now we appear close to adding another: unretired. Like Clijsters, Henin may make an immediate impact. She's only 27, and the skills that she had don't disappear in the course of 18 months. Plus, she's always been a fierce competitor, which sometimes feels like half the battle in today's WTA Tour.

2. "Federer's not perfect after all," the headline would read. It took a few days, but Roger Federer was finally fined for the "audible obscenity" he uttered during his U.S. Open final loss. Hard to know what was more shocking: Federer losing a 2-1 sets lead in a Grand Slam final, or his breach of decorum. True, the $1,500 barely covers the cost of his haircuts. And, true, there must have been a temptation to overlook this transgression, given all the cumulative good will he's amassed over the years. But, as Rudyard Kipling put it, "Rules is rules." And the ITF can ill afford to enforce rules selectively these days. Which leads us to ...

3. Fallout from the U.S. Open persists, a good sign the event was a success. They're still tallying the profits at USTA headquarters. Melanie Oudin killed it on the talk-show circuit and the endorsements (most recently AirTran Airways) have started to roll in. The excruciating trophy presentation ceremony following the men's final was mocked on The Colbert Report. In Argentina, Juan Martin del Potro is being feted like a conquering hero. Above all, Serena Williams continues to dominate discussion in and out of tennis. Mostly, she's being linked with Congressman Joe Wilson and Kanye West as exemplars of modern incivility. Serena's handlers either do a great or terrible job -- depending whether you think shielding the client from reality is a good thing -- but surely she must know how many fans she's lost lately. I still say a suspension is not warranted and leaves tennis open to an ugly civil war -- note that there was no suspension after this incident involving Andre Agassi -- but Serena is losing the battle of public opinion in a big way.

4. We can debate the wisdom and marketing savvy of holding the matches just a few days after the U.S. Open wrapped up. But the fact remains that there were two Davis Cup semifinals played this past weekend. Spain, sin Rafael Nadal, beat Israel. And the Czechs beat Croatia, surviving an 78-ace barrage from Ivo Karlovic. Federer -- light on his feet and lighter in the wallet -- helped Switzerland avoid relegation. It's all of a piece with tennis' unofficial slogan: "It may be nuts, but it's seldom boring."

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