I hadn't seen much college tennis until the NCAA tournament came to my area (Stanford) last month, and it was a revelation. It struck me that a lot of talented young players have no idea what they're missing, and that current trends on the women's pro tour could affect significant change.
They come from worlds of their own, driven by passion, ingenuity and a competitive spirit. If you want to know what's missing in American women's tennis, be sure to catch Thursday's French Open semifinal between Francesca Schiavone and Marion Bartoli -- and take full notice of two women who dare to be different.
The scores made it seem so ordinary -- 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 -- but the Caroline Wozniacki-Francesca Schiavone quarterfinal was a beacon of contrast at the Australian Open and the ultimate showcase for women's tennis. We may not see anything like it, with so much at stake, until Schiavone returns to the French Open to defend her title.
1. The new sheriff. Was it really 2009 that the last holdout caved, and we reached a rare consensus that Roger Federer was the best player in the modern era? Suddenly it's a race again. After retiring from the Australian Open with a knee injury, Rafael Nadal stormed back to win three straight majors, completing the career Grand Slam and bringing his total to nine -- still seven fewer than Federer, but ahead of his trajectory. If Nadal completes the "Rafa Slam" in Australia, the debate will only intensify. Pick a side, but agree it makes for compelling theater.
• Francesca Schiavone authored one of the better stories in tennis over the past year, playing the match of her life and winning the French Open women's singles title. The Italian veteran offered a fine sequel Sunday in San Diego, helping Italy defend its Fed Cup title. Schiavone knocked off Coco Vandeweghe -- a surprise fill-in for Melanie Oudin -- to get Italy on the board against the United States team. Then Flavia Pennetta did the rest, beating both Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Vandeweghe again. Brava.
SI.com caught up with Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim about Elena Dementieva's sudden retirement following Friday's season-ending loss to Francesca Schiavone at the WTA Championships in Qatar.
The U.S. Open is often a barometer of American tennis and its prospects for the future, but appearances can be deceiving. Ryan Harrison struck just about everyone as the real thing, a clever and imaginative kid who has every right to think big. The women's side -- and that's two years running -- has the look of a mirage.
When is the last time the two finalists of a Grand Slam event lost in the first round of the subsequent Slam? Francesca Schiavone and Sam Stosur both out in the first round of Wimby 2010? That can't have happened much. -- Jake Rupp, Manassas, Va.
Perhaps there's no resurrecting Roger Federer. Maybe he dropped the definitive hints at recent Wimbledons, strolling onto the court in those over-the-top evening jackets, as if preparing for a bit of pipe smoking with Alistair Cooke. Perhaps the rest of his career is just one big barnstorming tour -- "Come see the greatest player who ever lived!" -- as he swats those legendary groundstrokes, generally dominant but occasionally laying a massive egg.