Time to get violent

Updated: January 30, 2004, 1:42 PM ET
By Ray Ratto | Special to ESPN.com

Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters, two honest, earnest, supremely talented tennis players, enter the Australian Open final Sunday confronted by the same fundamentally troubling question.

Put politely, it is this:

"WHO THE HELL DO WE HAVE TO KILL TO GET NOTICED AROUND HERE?''

Now while I think we all have our lists of exactly who the two Belgian women could in fact slaughter for our attention (for me, the cast members of "The Apprentice" leap immediately to mind), it seems clear that neither of them are willing to go that extra mile (although, in the case of the cast members of "The Apprentice," a few feet would do it).

So they're going to have to go to Plan B.

Go at each other.

A modified form of this already worked to everyone's satisfaction 10 years ago, when the Portland Rose, Tonya Harding, sent her boyfriend to shorten Nancy Kerrigan by a leg. While Kerrigan didn't see the humor in it, it did kick-start the otherwise tedious sport of figure skating into national prominence.

But while neither Henin-Hardenne nor Clijsters need to go to the length of hiring union pipe-wrenchers to adjust the odds on each other, a good natured fist in the face during the introductions couldn't hurt.

And we don't even care who hits whom first. That shows how even-handed we are here.

For one, a bunch of five across the chops always gets an Australian's attention. I mean, they love rugby, and Aussie Rules Football is basically a tavern fight with the occasional jump ball thrown in for diversion.

Besides, you can buy beer in the handy 55-gallon drum over there, so you know they're not particular when the talk turns to a bar stool across the mush.

So the solution to their mutual anonymity seems clear. A fist fight, and they can choose the provocation.

An overhand that hits H&H in the throat ... an untoward remark directed at Clijsters on a changeover ... a sharp "Quit whining!" when either one of them complains about a foot fault.

That is, if they want us to care. The true tennis fan will simply be captivated by their groundstrokes, baseline play and athleticism. We agnostics, though, we want some hands thrown.

And not in that stupid, degrading WWE kind of way. Nor do we want this to be some cheap Harding-Kerrigan knockoff.

We realize there are few examples of this sort of thing in women's competitive sports, perhaps because men's competitive sports have had about a 100-year head start, and because men tend to go from persuasion to punchout at a much faster rate than women.

And this isn't just the orderly world of tennis that inspires us thus. We'd be just as content to see Michelle Wie and Annika Sorenstam clock each other with two-woods if the mood so struck them, with the winner moving on to face Phil Mickelson in the semifinals.

So we suggest this with the purest of motives -- amusement through chaos for the good of the sport. Or at least for something to talk about while dropping the kids off at school the next morning.

We just want the genuine article here. We have enough lousy "reality" TV, and tennis is entering what looks like one of those troublesome fallow periods that make tennis writers chew off their feet in typewritten angst.

No such issues here, though. We're just trying to help.

You see, without the Williams sisters, women's tennis is undergoing a brief and possibly undeserved burst of obscurity. Neither Clijsters nor Henin-Hardenne have either dominated or embarrassed their sport.

So the question, "Why not?'' leaps immediately to mind. And the answer, "Seize the day, ladies, by seizing each other's throats" leaps even higher.

Now they might choose instead the path of dignity and honest competition. They might play this Australian Open final as a true test of their relative skills, stamina, and powers of will and concentration. They may choose tennis after all.

But we gave our best advice anyway. Our consciences are clear. And, sports that we are, we won't even try to cop the credit if the scene gets unpleasant tonight.

Just remember when you read it first. And keep your opinions to yourselves, or we'll sic the winner on you.

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com

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