November 3, 2008

Vote for Change!

Tomorrow Americans have the opportunity to exercise their very important right to help elect a new President.

And over the next two weeks, the world's best tennis players have the (probably less important, but still quite significant) opportunity to dethrone the reigning king and queen and crown new Top Dogs themselves.

Politics aside, we could see a true changing of the guard, both in Doha where the women take the court and in Shanghai where the men will battle. Justine Henin and Roger Federer have claimed the year-end championships two years in a row, but their reigns could end this year. We all know about the premature end to Henin's career and the earth-shaking rise of Rafael Nadal as the top men's player of 2008. And that leaves the door open for change -- maybe by just a crack or possibly by a mile, depending on your particular point of view.

Let's start with the ladies, who relocate from Spain to Qatar to begin playing for their title tomorrow. The draw is markedly different from last year when Justine and Maria Sharapova played for the title -- neither will make the trip to Doha. Current #1 Jelena Jankovic returns, along with Ana Ivanovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova. But missing are Anna Chakvetadze, Daniela Huntuchova, and Marion Bartoli. (What ever happened to the one-time Wimbledon finalist who last year replaced an injured Serena Williams in Madrid? She's now quietly languishing at #16.) Their vacancies are filled by both Williams sisters and the three Russian Olympic medalists: Dinara Safina, Elena Dementieva, and Vera Zvonareva.

On the men's side the Shanghai draw wasn't decided until just yesterday. The top five seeds were in place weeks in advance: Nadal, Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Nikolay Davydenko. But as late as Wednesday of last week, the Masters Cup website listed twelve other players in contention for the final three spots, with a host of scenarios that would allow each to qualify. The BNP Paribas Masters tournament in Paris was the deciding factor.

Ultimately Andy Roddick, Juan Martin Del Potro, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, with his win over David Nalbandian on Sunday, were the lucky qualifiers. The latter two and Murray would be playing for their first Master Cup.

But things aren't exactly settled quite yet. With Roger and Nadal both pulling out of their Paris semifinal matches, I can't help but wonder whether they'll be able to play in Shanghai. Of course I hope neither of their injuries is enough to keep them from competing in China. As much as I'd like for James Blake to get another chance to compete for the championship (he's tenth in the race after his semifinal appearance in Paris), I don't feel it will mean as much to him, or any potential winner, if either Nadal or Federer do not compete.

As the women begin their round robin matches in the morning, I can't help rooting for some big changes in the status quo. Not that I have anything against Jelena, who has the top seed this year, Dinara, though I'm not a big fan of her brother's, or even Serena, who won in 2001 and has made two final appearances after that -- but I'd love for Dementieva to finally score a big win. As for the men, as long as Blake isn't competing, I might as well cheer for the other American to finish his comeback and bring home the title. The U.S. could use some good news these days.

While we, as fans, might not have any say in who wears the tennis crown at the end of the day, there's no harm in rooting for a shake-up!

So good luck to all -- and remember to vote!

1 comment:

Kavitha said...

And as I feared, I woke up this morning to find that Rafa's knee injury has in fact forced him to withdraw from the Shanghai Masters. He'll be replaced by France's Gilles Simon, another first-time entrant.

Of course I wish Nadal a speedy recovery and do regret that he won't make the trip to China. His presense will be sorely missed!