Thursday, 26 March 2009

Kimmie 'Spicing Things Up'? Sort Of.

Have to admit I'm kind of mixed about the whole Kimmie comeback thing.

On the one hand its great, considering the Chandler-like 'could things
BE any worse' state of the WTA. Kimmie was never my favourite player but I admired her speed and agility around the court and the pace she imparted particularly on the backhand. Not that there was anything especially standout about those groundstrokes -- in fact they weren't that dissimilar to anything we see nowadays. But Kimmie was a member of that all too rare breed in the WTA: an all court player.

Other all court players?
Svetlana, when she brings her brains as well as her racquet bag to court. And last week's winner of course Vera Zvonereva, whose play I think Kimmie's resembles more than anybody else. Replace the tearful tantrums with feel-good cupcake comeliness and more overall robustness and you'll see what I mean. A sort of Vera-Squared.

Svetlana and Vera's completeness and in particular, their adeptness at the net is largely down to the amount of doubles they played (and in Vera's case continues to play). But the common thread in their play for me, is the way in which they all run balls down: exceptionally well. No fluke of course that Svetlana ends her runs with Kimmie-like side splits too.

But here's the thing. Or in fact many things:

Despite her all court adeptness (which
does stand her in good stead against the rest of the field), it's all still rather a bit too samey. I compared her to Vera above, and if anything Clijsters is probably a class above her. But as I also observed, there's nothing remarkably different about anything she brings to court -- and she doesn't possess what I think might actually rescue the WTA from its present predicament: a secret weapon.

See, I have a theory - no not a dream, a theory (though it may well turn into a dream depending on how things pan out). It goes something like this.
No amount of Bollietteri-Baselining, physical conditioning or courtside coaching is going to benefit the tour right now. What it needs is players with a special ability, a mainstay of their game but also something that they can rely on in a crisis. A genetic mutation that's so very different to anything you see (in a 'way-out-there-with-pluto' kinda way) that the rest of the tour has no choice but to adapt. Navarro for example, though pretty unsuccessful for the most part, presents a style of play that is so at-odds with most every one else that I look forward to the day she mounts a credible challenge to entering the top ten.

Consider the Blokes for a moment. You needn't even look as high as the top four (don't like fab-four for some reason, tried it but don't like it). Examine instead, some of the guys who've been in (and out of) the top ten in recent years, and one thing you cannot fail to notice is a lot (though not all) of them have a super-power of some kind. Whether it's a Fernando Forehand, Blake-like athleticism and speed,
Ferrer's Armageddon-like determination and endurance or the Thunderbolt that is the A-Rod serve, there's a reason these guys have been in the top ten. Players that lack this exit it as quickly as they entered.

However you chose to define that X factor, you'd be hard pressed not to concede that the current
womens tour is lacking it in Spades (or Clubs or whatever Bridge analogy squares well with underachievement) ; and before anyone points it out, I'm distinctly aware of the differences between the sexes and am not expecting an androgenous Rafa-like humanoid to suddenly spring up from amongst the WTA ranks. But think back to a Henin backhand or a Steffi Graf forehand or even a Sharapova serve (pre shoulder problems) for a moment, and it all just suddenly seems a litle too safe and middle of the road. No one (Williamses not withstanding) is making any noise out there right now.

How did I manage to turn this too into a
WTA rant? Kimmie's shotmaking. Of course. Yeah, not that special or standout enough to make sufficient ripples on tour IMHO.

Commentators make the point that anything that 'spices things up' should be welcomed in the present climate. Well yes, and it's not that I don't welcome anything she can bring to liven up the show a little -- it's the types of spices she's bringing with her I take exception to. Cinnamon and way too much Coriander: a little too mild to bring about the necessary degree of 'spicing up'. You're going to have to bring something more similar in piquancy to what
Nando fed Rafa at Melbourne this year if you want that phrase to really ring true.

The other phrase I take exception to in this context is one I used myself recently in discussing what if anything would shake up the Women's game. You really can't describe Kimmie's return to the game (even if she starts regularly '
routining' the tours 'top players') as 'putting the cat amongst the pigeons' - 'a fluffy kitten with some cute trinkets hanging off a rather frilly collar amongst some pigeons rather too uncertain about their place in the tennis food chain' would be a more accurate description. There's a reason Kimmie only won a single Slam - she had well-documented problems with her wrist of course, but she's not the epitome of steeliness.

Another thing(I'm heavily into 'things' right now). One that is perhaps more obvious. I share Naf's view on 'Tennis with Attitude' that it's not the best ad in the world for the tour for someone, apparently dissatisfied with the whole tennis lifestyle, who in fact eschews it for a couple of years in favour of making babies with a basketball player (anyone know how his
shoe size compares with Isner's?), to manage to stage a successful return to the top of the game and begin routining players we should be thinking of as the Tour's Shooting Stars. It would tell you a lot about the top tier, most of it negative and not much we don't already know.

However as I said at the very beginning I really am undecided about this one. For one thing what ever else it may say about the rest of the tour, it really would be nice to have a complete player back in the mix of things - and it says a lot about her that she managed to win a Slam in a field that included
Henin, Venus Williams and a Sharapova, who was then at the height of her powers (Kimmie took out Venus and Maria en route to the final). I shudder to think how the current crop would fare under similar conditions (Kimmie's maybe thinking along the same lines, and not shuddering one bit)

So I've decided that though I may have some strong and grave sounding reservations, I do believe that this is, all things considered, generally a good thing for
Womens Tennis.

I'll leave you with two remaining observations on Kimmie.

She was spectacularly ill suited to
Lleyton Hewitt (still not sure how that happened and pretty sure opposites don't always attract), and will give Ivanovic a run for her money off court as well as on -- as she speaks faster and is capable of compressing more syllables into your average 2 second sentence than Ana's currently managing (who is far and away the leading player in this off court performance category).
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