Once you get past that nonsense, it's Indian Wells. One of the most important events of the year. It's always nice to see so many elite players gathered in one place, and with the women's draw scheduled to open on Wednesday, here's a list of Scenes We'd Like to See:
Justine Henin: You have to love seedings protocol. No worse than the second-best player in the world, Henin is a wild card in this event because of lack of points. Once she wins it -- and she should, with Serena Williams absent -- who knows? She might even move up to No. 78 in the world.
Serena and Venus Williams: Show up, right now, in time for a bye into the second round. Make an entrance so dramatic, they have to include you in the draw. (Shuffle the deck, kick out a couple of qualifiers, whatever it takes.)
The Williams boycott was bold and appropriate in 2002, the year after the sisters and their father, Richard, were subjected to racist heckling at Indian Wells, but it's now a tired act. It really doesn't make sense. Vulgar behavior can take place anywhere in the world, and the two have overcome it countless times. They'd make a far more powerful statement by returning to the scene and removing an air of tension that has loomed over this tournament for too long.
The WTA: Show some guts. Players skipping Indian Wells, one of five mandatory events under tour rules established last year, are subject to fines and a two-tournament ban. But wait! They can fulfill their obligation -- if you can believe this -- by performing "promotional activities" within a 125-mile radius of the event. So Venus and Serena will be out on the perimeter, right around the 124-mile mark, laughing heartily.
Ana Ivanovic: With such a one-note attack and an admitted lack of confidence, there's little chance she wins another major. She's had her day. But it would be nice to see Ivanovic play Vera Zvonareva in the third round -- a rematch of last year's final -- and for Ivanovic to prevail this time.
Melanie Oudin: After a disastrous Australian Open, during which she blew four match points in a first-round loss to Alla Kudryavtseva, she led the U.S. to a Fed Cup victory over France last month. The competition wasn't much (she defeated Julie Coin and Pauline Parmentier), but now comes a high-profile tournament in which she could be facing Daniela Hantuchova and Yanina Wickmayer in the second and third rounds. Those would be two nice wins.
Rafael Nadal: He doesn't need a win here. His mission is to get healthy enough to make a dominant run on clay. Considering the tender state of his knees, it would be almost disturbing to see him going all-out on this surface.
Roger Federer: He seems invincible again, but he may not have quite the motivation he brings to the majors. Just for the sake of novelty, it would be nice to see Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Robin Soderling or Fernando Verdasco take him out.
John Isner: Good show in Belgrade, taking Djokovic to the limit before losing the crucial Sunday Davis Cup match. He needs to build on that and other positive results, and he'll need a consistent backhand to do so. The serve is a finished product.
Andy Murray: This is the type of setting in which Murray can get to Federer -- but Murray needs to work on his mental approach. After watching the Australian final, Boris Becker observed, "Murray reverted to his usual defensive game, and when he had set points, he could not take the big step. On the big points, tennis players revert to instinct. He doesn't have that killer shot that's so deep inside him, it becomes instinctive to play it at the right moment -- like Roger. That's the next stage in his progression."
Gael Monfils vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: Let's see a clinic in pure athleticism and phenomenal court coverage.
Andy Roddick: How about a win? The man definitely deserves it. I wouldn't put money on such an outcome, but no matter what comes his way -- the relentless Federer, a shoulder injury -- Roddick just keeps unloading those big first serves and punishing inside-out forehands. He's the best in the U.S. by far, and we'll miss him when he's gone.