Tour officials would have you believe that the 2009 Grand Slam season was another compelling, fun-filled display of women's tennis, but it was hardly that. It was a mess. If there was an overriding theme, it was something along the lines of "I'm An Emotional Wreck."
In the year of the meltdown, even
Recall, for a moment, how badly the sport disintegrated last year.
It wasn't so long ago that Ivanovic and
Toss in the forever-searching
In the wake of Sharapova's desultory first-round loss to
What will bring Sharapova back to the foreferont, most believe, is her competitive nature. She's a fighter, tough under pressure, far stronger mentally than the Fragile Five. And it's a pleasure, by the way, to see no sign of her intensely annoying father,
As for Clijsters, who returned from retirement with a family, boundless confidence and an even more fundamentally imposing game than before, nothing spoke louder than her first-round rout over Canadian qualifier
Henin can only hope that tennis brings her the same measure of self-satisfaction. While Clijsters got married and had a kid, Henin took time off to learn some things about herself and a marriage that
Television interviews revealed Serena as a calm, self-assured presence heading into the Australian, and that's about as surprising as the sunrise. If people expect her to repeat her profane outburst at the U.S. Open, or show any sign of poor sportsmanship on the court, they haven't followed her career very closely. She's temperamental and somewhat unpredictable, a far cry from big-sister Venus' solid block of granite, but both girls were raised to absorb bad calls as they come -- sort of like setbacks in real life -- and stay in the present. Remember Serena's 2004 quarterfinal against
As Carillo arrived in Melbourne to work the tournament for ESPN2, she noted via e-mail, "So far, no woman player has had a nervous breakdown, but perhaps I'm being premature -- there may be some crying in a hotel room nearby. But, yes, I'm hoping that the squad of past No. 1s -- Sharapova, Clijsters, Henin -- will bring some mental and emotional fortitude back in the ranks. Justine has long been a displayer of that. Maria won this tournament two years ago in absolutely ruthless fashion. And Clijsters is just so damn pleasant and optimistic; her energy is pure oxygen around here. Serena will be on her best behavior, and even when she has to play her way into form physically, her mind and athletic heart allow for that. It's likely that if she loses, it won't be to herself. So let's go! Start throwing up balls! Without throwing up!"
And so it goes. On a tour covering roughly 364 days of the year (sometimes it seems that way), there is beauty in the comeback, the revitalization, a break from the grind. It just might be the key to survival.