Monday, July 20, 2009

World #1 Slums It Up In Slovenia

There's something to be said for having big name players show up to small tournaments to promote the game. It helps tennis gain roots in non-traditional markets, and lets fans in far flung locales see world class tennis in their own part of the world.

But when the big name player in question is a world #1 hearing increasingly loud criticism that her ranking is unjustified due to her inability to win the biggest tournaments, the decision is a little more questionable.

Dinara Safina is not only the only top ten player entered in this week's in Banka Koper Slovenia Open in Portoroz, Slovenia--she's only one of two entrants inside the top twenty (the second, twentieth ranked Anabel Medina Garrigues, barely fits in that category). It's almost as if Safina heard Serena Williams' sarcastic remarks about Safina deserving the #1 ranking because "she won Berlin and Madrid" and decided that the joke needed a better punchline.

While Safina spends her time in the second-least populated of the former Yugoslav nations, the rest of the top flight of women's tennis is preparing for next week's Premier level tournament in Stanford, a tournament Safina is not playing. The field at Stanford includes Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Elena Dementieva, Jelena Jankovic, Samantha Stosur, Nadia Petrova, Dominika Cibulkova, Agnieszka Radwanska, Marion Bartoli, and Na Li. Every one of those players is ranked above anyone Safina might face in Slovenia. That list doesn't even include other Stanford participants like Maria Sharapova and Sabine Lisicki, both of whom are much scarier opponents than an Anabel Medina Garrigues or a Kaia Kanepi.

Portoroz, Slovenia sounds a lot more desolate than it is, in fairness. It's less than ten miles from Italy, and only about sixty miles of the Adriatic Sea separate the tournament from Venice. And Safina has been training in nearby Croatia for some time now, the home country of her coach, Zeljko Krajan.

But Portoroz is still Portoroz. Safina winning the title this week in Slovenia would only confirm her propensity for winning only the smaller titles in the eyes of her many critics, and would make her even more of a laughingstock .

And since that's how bad it would be if she wins, I can't even begin to imagine what the reaction will be if she loses.

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