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Beyond the Baseline

A valentine to tennis: What we love

Rafael Nadal Black and white or in color, he's animated. (Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images)

It's Feb. 14, which means that, according to Hallmark, it's Valentine's Day. With that in mind, here is our love letter to tennis -- the maddening, inspiring and impossibly dramatic sport we spend our days and nights covering. There are days when we don't like you very much, tennis. But there's never a day that we don't love you. So what do we love about you? Let us count (just some of) the ways ...

Rafael Nadal's intensity: Death, taxes and Rafa's fire. That attribute has never been in doubt, and his ferocity wins him matches as much as his shot making and movement do.


Agnieszka Radwanska has a distinct style. (Ian Kington AFP/Getty Images) Agnieszka Radwanska has a distinct style. (Ian Kington AFP/Getty Images)

Agnieszka Radwanska's shot making: When the Pole is on, like she was in her quarterfinal win over Victoria Azarenka at the Australian Open, she ceases to be a tennis player and transforms into an artist. Her ability to turn a point around with tactics rather than sheer power is unparalleled in the women's game.


Ernests Gulbis' loose lips: The Latvian's career has been a convincing campaign against dullness, and he remains one of the most refreshing and funny interviews in the game. Sure, he ruffled feathers last year when he called the Big Four's interviews "boring," but he wasn't entirely wrong. Tennis needs more Gulbises -- players who are happy to speak their mind without fear of repercussion in the locker room.


Serena Williams' onesie collection: She calls them "onezies," but no matter the spelling, they're fabulous:


Gael Monfils Gael Monfils being Gael Monfils. (Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

Gael Monfils' game-changing athleticism: The fact that Monfils' speed and agility allow him to retrieve so effectively and hit almost every shot in the book can lead to some frustrating passivity in matches, but you can't help but tune in when he plays. You never know what you'll see from tennis' most dynamic athlete.


Court Pietrangeli Court Pietrangeli at the Italian Open. (Julian Finney/Getty Images)

The Italian Open's Court Pietrangeli: With its sunken clay court, marble seating and Roman military statues standing sentry, this secondary court at the Foro Italico is without a doubt my favorite venue in the world.


@PseudoFed: Pound for pound, tweet for tweet, there is no one better on Twitter.


The Bernard Tomic saga: He isn’t the first tennis prodigy and he won’t be the last, but the pure drama surrounding Tomic’s career -- which varies from entertaining to tragic --  is undeniably compelling. His game is refreshingly different and his potential is exciting. If only he (and his father) could get out of his own way.


Jelena Jankovic: Her distinctive place in the game comes down to the fact that she continues to unapologetically be ... Jelena Jankovic. Whether it's wearing glitter onto the court in her first Grand Slam final, saying ridiculous things in her raspy voice or screaming at her brother in the coaching box, the Serb relishes the spotlight. She, as Beyonce would say, ***flawless.


Roger Federer's and Rafael Nadal's gigglefest: This video never gets old:


Juan Martin del Potro's showmanship: He's soft-spoken and almost sheepish on the court, but he's just as fun to watch for his humorous interactions with fans as he is for his insane running forehand.


Stanislas Wawrinka Stanislas Wawrinka's tattoo. (Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

Stanislas Wawrinka's tattoo: It's now the most famous -- and prescient -- ink job in tennis. "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better." Wawrinka got those words, from Irish writer Samuel Beckett, etched on his left forearm last year after his heartbreaking five-set loss to Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open. A year later, he beat Djokovic in yet another marathon and went on to win his first major title.


Maria Sharapova's on-court fashion. Her Nike outfits are almost always a highlight of our fashion posts, as the sport's glamour standard rarely disappoints. In a sport with a foothold in the fashion world, Sharapova continues to rule the roost.


Li Na unplugged: You would be hard-pressed to find anyone in tennis as effortlessly humorous as Li in front of a microphone. Whether she's playfully pushing back on reporters or poking fun at her husband or herself, an opportunity to listen to her speak is not to be missed.

http://youtu.be/M-uVsj2pJDo


Andy Murray's 2013 Wimbledon win: Finally we can talk about something else for the next 77 years.


Venus Williams' competitive fire: Her body can't do what it could five years ago, but the mind and the will have remained constant. Watching the 33-year-old battle through a three-set match should be repeated required viewing for every professional tennis player. And watching her grace and class after she loses those matches? That should be too.


Piotr Wozniacki's wild coaching timeouts: Here's a tip: Next time Caroline Wozniacki takes a coaching timeout with her father, watch it on mute. With his reliance on intense gesticulations, it looks like he's telling her to go outside the stadium, chop down a tree and beat her opponent over the head with it. If you're watching with friends, add your own commentary MST3K-style. Easy entertainment.


Novak Djokovic Don't try this at home. (Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Novak Djokovic's flexibility: How does he do that? Just ... how???


Fabio Fognini's Fabio Fognini-ness: Sure, he's one of the best pure ball strikers in tennis and he's been one of the top players on clay over the last year. But if we're being honest, we tune in because of his complete unpredictability, which usually revolves around one simple question: Is he actually going to try to win the match or not? The answer never ceases to surprise.


The ATP Challenger circuit: There's little glory or money involved in the ATP's middle rung, making the competition feel pure. It's where the tour's future stars are honing their skills and learning how to win. That effort pays off, too. No. 67 Bradley Klahn, 23, has won just three ATP Tour-level matches, but his hard work in the Challengers has put him only 114 points behind American No. 2 Sam Querrey in the rankings.


Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Monte Carlo looks swell. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

The view at the Monte Carlo Masters: Watching a match from center court should be on every tennis fan's bucket list. I know it's on mine.


The WTA's Generation Next: Sloane Stephens, Eugenie Bouchard, Madison Keys, Laura Robson and Elina Svitolina are an intriguing set of young players with markedly (and marketably) different personalities. The next few years should be interesting.


Benoit Paire The well-groomed Benoit Paire. (Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)

Benoit Paire's beard: Best facial hair in the game.


Jerzy Janowicz's moxie: Pound a 140 mph serve? Feather a drop shot? Leap into a forehand? I'm convinced Janowicz has no idea what he's going to do when he pulls back his racket, but the Pole plays on a razor's edge and constantly seems on the verge of pushing it too far. It's exhilarating.


Calamity Slams: While I do enjoy seeing the best players go head to head during the business part of a Slam, I don't mind a completely busted bracket every once in a while to shake things up. We saw that last year at Wimbledon, where Federer and Nadal crashed out early on the men's side and Marion Bartoli took advantage of several upsets on the women's side to earn her maiden Slam title. This year's Australian Open also yielded surprises. We need the occasional reminder that no matter the dominance of the elite, you can't fill out your draw in pen. That's a good thing.


Pam Shriver: The ESPN commentator isn't afraid to speak her mind, even if that goes against the grain. She can make a few missteps in the process, but you never get the sense that Shriver is holding back. Tennis needs more of that in the booth. And around the grounds. Who can forget this interview on Henman Hill during Wimbledon last year?


Jason Goodall, Robbie Koenig and Darren Cahill: The best compliment I can give an analyst is that he or she draws me into a match I wouldn't normally pay attention to simply because I know I'll learn something new. These three are the best analysts in the biz.


French drama: Monfils. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Richard Gasquet. Gilles Simon. Bartoli. Alize Cornet. Paire. What do they all have in common? They're French and have a flair for the dramatic. Some people watch tennis for forehands and backhands and scorelines, but for those of us who just enjoy the pure drama of the struggle, the Frenchies are the reigning dominant country.

I mean, Cornet's cell phone once went off on court. Even when she's not trying to cause drama, she causes drama.

http://youtu.be/8GzcpGCEFPs


What do you love about tennis? Let us know in the comments.

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