Remember that great western, “Shane”? Sure you do.
Shane, the hero, after wiping out the bad guys, of course rides off into the sunset while the young boy who idolizes him, cries out in anguish: “Shane! Shane! Come back, Shane! Come back!”
No luck. The movie had used up its time.
I felt like that sorrowful kid when the erstwhile “Brussels Sprouts” — Kim Clijsters, then Justine Henin – decided to jet off to new places in the sun called retirement. How could these young women walk out on us like that?
“Kim! Come back, Kim! Justine! Come back, Justine!”
But — hurrah! — sometimes, wishes come true. Apparently they missed us just as we missed them. Surprised? Yes and no. Very few successful young athletes who walk away resist making comebacks. They get the itch to compete again. In this case of the backpedaling Belgians they’re doing a big favor for the game, as well as themselves. Especially the women’s game, which needs help. What better help than the return of two future Hall of Famers, whose best performances lie ahead?
Imagine what 27-year-old Justine must have been thinking in watching 26-year-old Kim reappear to play the tournament of her life — dismembering the Sisters and becoming the only unseeded woman to win the U.S. Championship. “She’s away 2 1/2 years, has a baby, fortifies by dipping into all of 7 matches, and then behaves like Shane with a tennis racket, riding roughshod over the Flushing plain. Swell, but can the opposition have gotten that soft? Better get back there myself to show them how the game should be played.”
How? The way Justine does it — completely, rarely –and Kim appears even better than when she said goodbye.
Yes, the guys also could take a few lessons from Henin, the Paperweight Tiger, the way she changes speeds, spins, angles, moves lightfootedly, and approaches for volleys. Thoughtful. Like the guy named Federer, she is terrific to watch, not caught up in mindless, endless banging from the baseline.
With the season, dragging on, overly long, Andy Roddick, Andre Agassi and Rafa Nadal are are right on — protesting that the campaign must be shortened. By this time too many players are injured or worn out.
Tennis is the only big league sport without a genuine off-season. Unlike the team sports, there’s no bench in tennis. No substitutions. A player is on his/her own. The WTA has done a better job of scheduling than the ATP, but the campaign remains over-packed.
Ideally the season would end by the first week in October, allowing three months off. Better for everybody, including the fans, reducing confusion and giving wounds time to heal properly.
Right now it’s more fun to look ahead to 2010 and the Australian Open — one reason: Justine and Kim will be there. The game couldn’t have a finer Christmas gift.