A few thoughts as tennis takes its annual autumnal tumble off the radar ...
1. One of you raised a fine point last week: We talk all the time about the tennis season winding down. And therein lies the problem. A sport's season shouldn't "wind down" to an anticlimactic conclusion. It should somehow culminate.
For the record, Nikolay Davydenko won the inaugural Shanghai Masters event Sunday, upsetting Rafael Nadal in the final. Congrats to the persistent Russian. But this event doubled as a microcosm of fall tennis in general. Roger Federer took a pass on the event, while a conga line of competitors suggested they'd rather have been elsewhere. Then, player after player withdrew with injuries. (Two of Nadal's four wins came via retirements.) The stands were appallingly empty -- you'd think in a country of 1.2 billion citizens, you could round up a few thousand fans. And tennis seemed very far from the general sports consciousness last week.
Griping and sniping about the calendar and commitment demands have become as much a part of contemporary tennis as polyester strings. But, like the related issue of player health, this needs to be addressed in a meaningful way during what passes for an offseason.
2. The oddsmakers already have posted their favorites for the Australian Open. The favorite is Serena Williams, the defending champ who still awaits her fate from the International Tennis Federation for her role in foot-fault-gate. The next three: Kim Clijsters, Maria Sharapova and Justine Henin. That three of the top four contenders didn't even play the event in 2009 tells you plenty about the wild year on the WTA Tour.
If you're looking for a dark horse, though, check out Yanina Wickmayer. A 19-year-old Belgian, Wickmayer made the U.S. Open semifinals in what is increasingly looking less like a fluke than a breakthrough. Y-Wick won the Linz event Sunday and will finish 2009 in the top 20. Watch for her next year.
3. Andre Agassi has kept a surprisingly low profile since his retirement in 2007. But that is changing. He played his first event on the Outback Tour last week and caused some ripples when he suggested that the Federer-Nadal era is perhaps drawing to an end. In a few weeks, his autobiography, Open, hits the shelves (and the Amazon equivalent) and, from everything we've heard, this is not your standard sports book. We'll leave it at that. Except to say that you can be assured we'll be hearing more from Andre pretty soon.
4. Watch this ... then watch this. Decide which is the spoof.