READY OR NOT, HERE WE GO AGAIN — CAN ANYBODY BLOCK THE 1-2 PUNCHES OF MONOPOLISTS NADAL AND FEDERER?

Flying across snowy USA, we leave the cold behind when we arrive in Melbourne

Flying across snowy USA, we leave the cold behind when we arrive in Melbourne

Can’t even fully digest 2010 as 2011 springs into view, the 44th year of open tennis –  or the 134th year since Wimbledon cranked up the original tournament.

Everybody ready?  Probably not.  Not enough recuperation time during another ridiculously brief off-season as the years bump together like pigs in a pen. Life on the road resumes, and few are lucky enough to occasionally play at home and eat Mom’s cooking (presuming she knows how to cook). Room service can be forbidding, though Pete Sampras made a pretty fair career on it.

The lure of the lined rectangle, whatever the inconveniences, is irresistible, and so the show goes on for the guys and dolls bashing away at each other across the planet.

For an amusing  moment I thought the season might be over before it began.  Something called The World Tennis Championship was happening in Abu Dhabi, one of those Emirates fat and bulging with cash.  Was the World Championship over  before the season even began?  Well, no, except in the huckstering eyes of the promoters.  Of course it was an exhibition, a demonstration of prowess by Nadal, Federer and some others of the elite, whose presence, win or lose, was gifted by lottery-style sums.  Guarantees.  A nice, conditioning romp in the desert sun.  Shake down a sheikh?

Nadal beat Federer in the final, but you and I  — and they — didn’t confuse it with a World Championship.  Such things are contested on the majors’ courts of Melbourne, Paris, London and New York. Not Abu Dhabi.

But the ATP should pay attention to all the men’s exos, to be sure the labeling doesn’t smack of pro-wrassling.  No inflated titles.  Use some imagination. That one could have been called the World Wallets Championship.

Grounds at the Australian Open

Grounds at the Australian Open

As 2011 unfolds innumerable exams on court will provide answers to the most vexing questions.

Such as:

Will Rafael (Roundhouse Rafa) Nadal and Roger (Lord of the Swings) Federer maintain their iron curtain around the rest of the male population? The two of them have accounted for 21 of the last 23 majors.

Despite oft-injured Serena’s status as the finest of the women — winner of two of the three majors entered in 2010 — will she regain health and play enough to show off her greatness and return to No. 1?  What about Venus, who came so close in 2010 to replacing sidelined Serena as a U.S. Open champ?

Where do Justine Henin, Kim Clijsters, Caroline Wozniacki, Francesca Schiavone, Samantha Stosur, Maria Sharapova fit in?

Kim, Justine and Maria are headed for the Hall of Fame.  Peppery Schiavone could get there by adding one more major to her French of ’10.  But the crowds at the Aussie, the new year’s initial major, will be screaming for Slam Bam Sam to wham the curse that goes back to 1978 when Kim O’Neil was the last homegrown winner of the Australian prize.

How long can Wozniacki and her gorgeous sharpshooter’s blue eyes hang in at No. 1?  Something very un-rotten in Denmark, Hamlet might have said.  Not a lot of Danish in the  tennis history books, but, Caroline, losing to Clijsters, was merely the second of her country to make a major final, following from a great distance the Wimbledon runner up Kurt Nielsen of 1953 and 1955.

What’s become of the giant of ’09?  Wrist problems kept 6-foot-6 Juan Martine Del Potro from following up on his brilliant U.S. Open championship triumph over Federer.  Gone almost a year, can he find that thunder again?

Melbourne by night

Melbourne by night

Are the Americans factors again?  Andy Roddick has recovered from mono.  Mardy Fish, John Isner (he of the unending Wimbledon lifetime match) and Sam Querrey are to be watched, along with the teen rookie Ryan Harrison.  Another major would boost Roddick, owner of the 2003 U.S. Open, to the Hall someday.

Questions, questions.  Too many, it seems, but they’ll be worked on at Melbourne Park shortly.

A few days ago at the Doha shore,  pals Federer and Nadal, hit a few balls for the photographers on a court awash in the sea.  Were they running on water? One-hundred-twenty-six other male players wouldn’t doubt it.  Maybe the Nos. 1-2 guys will try it again on the Yarra River just beyond Rod Laver Arena where the titles will be decided.  Saltwater, river water?  What’s the difference when Rafa and Roger decide to pull a few of their miracles. END

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