Monday, October 19, 2009
Updated: October 20, 9:37 AM ET
Ten burning fall season questions
The tennis season is winding down in typical chaotic fashion. The frequency of player withdrawals once again has ramped up, leading you to believe that tennis might be more hazardous to your health than the NFL. Players are reviving the "season is too long" mantra. And the Legends of the Fall -- those pros who save their best for the post-Grand Slam season -- have returned in full force. But amid the upsets and sound bites, the fall season has raised 10 key questions.
1. Can Nikolay Davydenko finally win a Slam?
In Shanghai, Davydenko showed us the blueprint to defeat Rafael Nadal. Using sharp crosscourt angles, the Russian hit forehand after forehand into Nadal's backhand, forcing him to slice the ball back from outside the doubles alley. This opened up the court for Davydenko to hit down the line or go behind Rafa. Although Davydenko is still Slamless, it's this type of focused performance that could net him his first major next year.
2. Why has Novak Djokovic sounded so pumped up?
It's nice to see, of course, but where was this positive mojo during the Slam season? He better bottle his attitude before heading Down Under.
3. Is the tour's Asia strategy working?
For years we've been told that tennis is booming in China. Recent events in Beijing and Shanghai suggest otherwise. While the Shanghai semifinals and final drew strong crowds, the rest of the sessions were barren wastelands. The truth? Tennis remains too expensive for most folks. Perhaps it's time for the tours to rethink their China strategy, because there's no worse advertisement for the sport than empty stands.
4. Will Federer have the last laugh?
While his competitors are globe-trotting, he's resting and regrouping. He knows better than anyone that it's not how you end the year, in London, it's how you begin it, in Australia.
5. Is Nadal's body finally falling apart?
It's a time-honored question every fall, when Nadal's results bottom out. Recent losses to Marin Cilic and Davydenko suggest that Rafa still must tweak his schedule to better pace himself. Suggested starting point: Don't begin next season by playing an exhibition.
6. Then again, should we believe what we read?
Andre Agassi floated the Big Idea that the Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal era is coming to an end. At least that's what the sensationalistic headlines read. What Agassi actually said was that eventually, at some point, Rafa and Roger would stop dominating. Stop the presses.
7. Does the women's tour exist?
With names like Yanina Wickmayer, Petra Kvitova, Samantha Stosur and Francesca Schiavone next to the words "Championship Match," it makes you wonder. But the topsy-turvy results have generated some creative spin among journalists, such as calling the tour "compellingly unpredictable."
8. Biggest surprise of the season?
Marcos Baghdatis, who has a reputation for slacking off, has gone back to the minor leagues to revive his once-promising career. As of Oct. 19, Bags had won three challengers in a row and raised his ranking from No. 151 in July to No. 66.
9. Has there been a more depressing farewell tour than Marat Safin's?
He has an abysmal 14-19 singles record, and he's ripped his colleagues for faking injury and complaining about the length of the season. Maybe he's telling the truth, but to wait until you've got one foot out the door before speaking up smacks of cowardice.
10. Will something finally be done about the pro calendar?
The issue seemed to reach a tipping point in Shanghai last week, where all the player withdrawals could lead a conspiracy theorist to believe the pros were on unofficial strike. It's still hard to fathom that 25 weeks -- the maximum required number (assuming a player reaches the second week of all four Slams and the Davis Cup final) -- is too much. But there's a bigger concern: If the tours solve this perennial problem, what will fans talk about during the fall season?