My column on AOL Fanhouse
Alec Baldwin is hot for her sweaty body. Todd Woodbridge is focusing on her breasts. Serena Williams‘ mom thinks she has a scary, Medusa eye.
Not only that, but Kim Clijsters also has won the past two major tennis championships. And when she officially reached No. 1 in the rankings Monday, she became the first Mommy to get there.
Clijsters has already done much more than I thought she could during her comeback, not so much on the court, but off, bringing attention to women’s tennis. Her play, and now her ranking, has brought credibility.
Did she just solve women’s tennis No. 1 problem? She is more like a Band-Aid, temporarily covering up the real issues of women’s tennis:
The game is moving backward. And Serena Williams, who had been holding up the sport during majors when most people are watching, suddenly is completely unreliable.
“I am proud that I was able to achieve it (No. 1) in my second career,” Clijsters wrote on Twitter. “Never expected it to happen.”
She has restored an order to the game, finally bumping out Caroline Wozniacki from the No. 1 ranking. No one thought Wozniacki, who hasn’t won a major, was deserving.
The problem is that while Clijsters is a little better than she was her first time around on tour, her rise to the top isn’t so much about catching up to all the champions as it is that the champions have all disappeared. And no one has come to replace them.
She has not caught up to the great players on top of the game because there aren’t any there.
Clijsters can hold the spot for a while, but even she is saying that by the end of next summer, she isn’t planning to be on tour full time anymore.
Then what? Well, the great thing about a Band-Aid is that it gives the body time to heal. Maybe women’s tennis can develop a champion in the next year and half? Mostly, that will be on Wozniacki, who reached No. 1 before her time. Before developing a weapon.
Maybe Maria Sharapova can rediscover the nerve in serve?
For now, it’s a relief for women’s tennis to have someone at No. 1 who actually seems to belong there. Clijsters, 27, replaces a group that can’t win a major, cries on court, forgets how to toss the ball for a serve, or, shows so little regard for the tour that she doesn’t bother trying or showing up unless it’s a major.
Now that Clijsters is back, she is relentless, “tough and indefatigable,” Baldwin told the New York Times in a story about famous people’s crushes. “And I like fit, sweaty women.”
Don’t think of Clijsters as a seat-warmer for Serena. Williams has spent the past few years trying only in the majors, and winning plenty of them. But now she has been out for seven months with a foot injury that comes with alternating explanations. She does not seem motivated anymore.
Williams, once the only force on the tour, has become a void herself.
Ana Ivanovic was ready to be a champ, but then fell apart the minute she reached the mountaintop. Dinara Safina can’t even win one game off Clijsters. Jelena Jankovic is comfortable having dropped back to the second tier.
In her first time on tour, Clijsters was the undeserving No. 1, getting there the first two times without a major title. The real champs were the Williams sisters, Jennifer Capriati, Lindsay Davenport and Justine Henin.
Clijsters was always in the shadow of Henin, as they are both from Belgium. On Monday, Henin had a press conference talking about her re-retirement. She said she is in mourning, that she had to go this time because of a ligament injury in her elbow, which makes it not by choice but by sentence.
But even before she got hurt, she had lost some of her game. Clijsters, meanwhile, has turned into a rock. Partly, though, that’s because the tour lacks the kind of players to put pressure on her.
The women’s game is skewing older, and the accepted reason is that tennis is getting more physical. Young bodies aren’t strong enough, the theory goes. Maybe there is something to that, but I think young players are mostly all taught to blast away on every shot, play the same style as everyone else. Tennis should have a personality.
So no one is there to take the baton from the older players. But some of them, such as Venus Williams, Francesca Schiavone and now Li Na, aren’t going to last long.
So tennis fans can celebrate Clijsters’ rise to the top today. But just know exactly what it is you’re celebrating.
Follow me on Twitter @gregcouch