What's left for tennis fans in 2010?
Drums fingers on desk. Puts hand under chin. Stares at computer screen. Clicks on TennisTV. Sees highlights from Cincy in August. Clicks off TennisTV. Drums fingers some more.
Does this describe your tennis-viewing life at the moment? A post-Grand Slam pullback is OK for a week or so. Time to decompress, worry about the government again, become enraged when you remember how horribly the media treated your favorite player, etc. But, nice Davis Cup weekends aside, a pullback can quickly turn into a lull, which then can turn into a drag. Considering that the biggest headline in the sport recently was that the men's No. 1 has committed to playing Queen's, next June, a tournament he played two of the past three years -- what's he going to reveal next, he's planning to play Wimbledon? -- we're deep into lull stage already.
More troubling may be the long-term viewing situation. Is there a good reason to watch for the rest of 2010? Rafael Nadal has locked up the No. 1 spot for the year, which means that nothing of any historical significance is likely to happen on the men's side. A similar situation exists among the A-listers on the women's: Justine Henin is done for the season, Serena Williams doesn't seem to be in a hurry to return, and Kim Clijsters is planning to enter one tournament before the year-end final in Doha.
Nevertheless, other players will get into airplanes, tournaments will be played, and we will watch them. The question is: Why? Here are five reasons:
The return of Nikolay Davydenko
I have mixed feelings about his inevitable, opportunistic autumn rise. I like the guy's hoppy, peppy, clean game, but not enough to miss it, I guess. I haven't found myself wondering what happened to him after he began the year with such a bang (injuries did play a role). Was he really the talk of the Australian Open for a few minutes?
Now that I think about it, I did see Davydenko play, sort of, against Richard Gasquet last month at Flushing Meadows. He looked like he wanted to be anywhere other than a tennis court. Maybe because it was sunny. Maybe because it was outdoors. Maybe because it was a Grand Slam. Maybe because he was saving himself for the big-money, low-prestige, indoor fall season. This is Davydenko time: The serious Grand Slam contenders have lost a little of their edge, which means no one is guarding the bank. Last year, the Russian even went ahead and stunned himself by winning the World Tour Final. That led some of us -- me, too -- to speculate that he had finally begun to think of himself as one of those serious Slam contenders. He hadn't. He never will. Still like his game, though.
Rafael Nadal's fall improvement campaign
Nadal is No. 1, but he does have something to gain in the fall. At his news conference after the Open final, he spoke about wanting to improve on his ragged end-of-season performances of 2009. The bar is pretty low. He was blown out by Davydenko and Marin Cilic in Asia, and he could barely get the ball past the service line in Paris and London. If Nadal has anything left to prove, or aim for, it's winning the World Tour Finals. This is a tournament where the past two long-term No. 1 players, Roger Federer and Pete Sampras, have been dominant. Nadal has never even reached the final, and last year he finished dead last among eight players after losing six straight sets. Nadal said as much at Flushing, where he mentioned that the WTF is the only "big" event he hasn't won. The fast indoor surface that's been used in the past hasn't suited him (Nadal joked about getting it played on clay one of these years), but he also had never won the U.S. Open before this season. After the French, he sounded determined to make that happen, and in New York he sounded similarly focused on London. He should be able to do it. It's his world now.
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The chase for No. 1 on the women's side -- and whether anyone should want it
The stars may -- or may not -- be out, but starting next week there will be big money floating around for the women. First they go to the $2 million tournament in Tokyo, where Maria Sharapova is the defending champion, and then on to the really big cash ($4.5 million total) at the mandatory event in Beijing, which Svetlana Kuznetsova won in 2009. What else is stake? For Caroline Wozniacki, there's the possibility of finishing the year No. 1: She's 1,000 points behind Serena, even though she's already played 24 events to the American's 14. Wozniacki may want to be careful what she wishes for. Right now she's thought of as a nice, resourceful, unexciting up-and-comer. Will she want to risk changing her storyline to: undeserving No. 1 and sign of all that is wrong with women's tennis? She might want to avoid seeking Dinara Safina's advice on that one.
The Fed Cup final
It's a rematch of last year's final between the U.S. and Italy, though this time it will be in the States, for the first time in 10 years. Venus and Serena Williams have said they're going to play it, though they've made similar statements before backing out in the past. There may be more incentive this time. The tie is in San Diego, not far from Serena's home, and they each need to make two Fed Cup appearances before the 2012 Olympics if they want to be eligible to play. Captain Mary Joe Fernandez has said that if the Williamses do show, they're in. Whoever is there for the Yanks, you know the Italians -- Francesca Schiavone and Flavia Pennetta -- will be ready. They're the defending champs, and they live for this thing. It should be an entertaining tie either way.