One of the best parts of the Indian Wells experience is getting to see the best men and women play in the same tournament, on the same courts, usually in consecutive matches. That has been especially helpful for me, because to be honest, I have grown apart from the women's tour in recent years. Whereas seven years ago, the WTA was bursting with personality and seemed to have a leg up on its male brethren, in recent years, I have had a hard time following the game. A big issue for casual fans has been the inability to distinguish a number of the players. As the game has gone global, the level of play has increased, but it has become more difficult for an American audience to connect with the personalities. I mentioned this to an individual connected with tours here at Indian Wells and he acknowledged the issue but noted that if more people knew the players involved, they would appreciate not only the game, but the personalities as well. I agree.
So I decided to do a little image searching and find the best (aka most interesting) internet picture of the women in the Round of 16. In so doing, I made a deal with myself that I would not resort to simply finding the sexiest pictures of the players. It is no secret that the WTA is home to some of the most beautiful women in the world, and this is also true of the tour's top players. However rather than resort to this easy way out, I went in a different direction, the Round of 16 via the player's most interesting internet picture. We will start with two of the matches being played tomorrow:
Maria Kirilenko vs Agnieszka Radwanska
My Indian Wells crush has easily been Maria Kirilenko, a beautiful Russian who commands attention wherever she goes. Because I will abide by my stated desire to not simply resort to internet swimsuit pictures (although in Kirilenko's case there are many, and they are gorgeous), I will focus on the other major aspect of her non-tennis personality and that is her engagement to Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. Ovechkin was at one time the best player in the NHL, but is now best known for being the best player on the league's worst team. I love Alex because of the tremendous gap in his teeth, but I didn't know until I watched Kirilenko play just how jealous I truly was of him. This picture taken by Ovechkin after the couple's engagement shows that international sports stars can still find ways to coexist in relatively modest means. A small Christmas tree, plain white walls and a plastic Santa Claus suggest a couple that doesn't spent their hard-earned wealth on gaudy trinkets, but instead wants to remain connected to the average American (or in their case, Russian) by celebrating Christmas with what can kindly be called, a Wal-Mart fashion motif. Beautiful, talented and not high maintenance. Kirilenko is my Indian Wells crush.
Her opponent in the next round is Agnieszka Radwanska, a Polish star on the verge of her breakout year. Radwanska's picture is once again simplistic, showing her getting her toes done, not in some high-priced salon or exclusive European spa, but in a room that looks to be located in a municipal building in Newark. Radwanska prefers to have her feet painted not in a comfortable leather recliner, but instead in a 1970's stained baby blue chair, that when she finishes, can be stacked and placed on a cart to stored back in the basement. If trouble comes, Agnieszka will be ready, always keeping a fire hydrant near by in order to prevent a disaster. Radwanska shows herself to be a woman who loves the finer things, but sees no need for creating a fuss, while always remaining prepared if trouble strikes. In a time of danger, Agnieszka is your woman, and I trust her to lead us to safety.
Petra Kvitova vs Klara Zakopalova
My internet journey hit a bit of a road block with Petra Kvitova, a Czech star who may be the most unknown former Wimbledon champion to ever walk its manicured lawn. She has been as high as #2 in the world, yet her internet picture history is relatively weak. In fact, the selection of non-action shots gave me almost nothing to work with. However just as I was about to give up in complete despair, I found this Champion's picture of Kvitova winning the WTA event in Paris. As a prize for the victory, she was given this trophy, which seems to be an ode to a paper cut-out of a spoon. I sat staring at this picture for at least five minutes, trying to figure out whether it was a metaphor for something deeper in life (the world is the blank white space and the outline of the spoon is the global-industrial complex feeding us the information they want us to know? A college philosophy student somewhere is shaking his head in agreement) or simply the ugliest trophy known to man. I am going with the latter, and the way Kvitova is smiling without mocking, suggests she is a sweet soul who is willing to handle whatever life brings her way.
Her opponent tomorrow is Klara Zakopalova, another Czech, who is currently at the highest ranking of her career. Her photo selection was a bit better, but I chose this one, where she and a friend seem to be hanging out at the worst "Meet and Greet" party ever assembled. The men behind her look to be telling awful stories (probably about global commodities, which I always hear people in suits talking about, but which I think is an actual subject) and she and her friend seem to have escaped and found whatever enjoyment they can have at the moment, mainly taking pictures and standing next to plates. The picture suggests that Zakopalova finds herself in important situations, but never takes herself too seriously...a trait that usually makes for a likable person.
These are just two of the eight matches tomorrow and here on The Outer Courts, we will let you know how they play out. But for now, know this. There is more to the WTA than simply names with lots of "V's and "Z"s. These women have style flair, and oh yeah, they can hit it down your throat if need be.