Love Comes In Sports
Love comes in spurts, in dangerous flirts
And it murders your heart, they never tell you that part
- Richard Hell, "Love Comes in Spurts"
I spent all Saturday night watching Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete Fourth Season and all day Sunday watching sports (specifically soccer and tennis) - for which I just couldn't curb my enthusiasm. Especially when it came to my two new jockette crushes: Brazilian soccer superstar Marta and Chinese tennis star Zi Yan.
Marta is Marta Viera de Silva, a 23-year-old Brazilian beauty and three-time FIFA World Player of the Year who currently plays forward for the Los Angeles Sol of the Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) league. LA, the best team in the WPS all season, lost the championship game this past Sunday to New Jersey's upstart FC Sky Blue (perhaps the most inappropriately named franchise in the WPS - I sure don't think of blue skies when I think of Joisey! It's more a West Coast, "Golden State"-sounding hippy-dippy name) - but not from a lack of effort from gifted goal-scorer Marta who, like all Brazilian soccer stars, goes by a singular sobriquet. But what struck me most about the long-legged Brazilian striker was her bronze-skinned beauty.
Miss Golden Ball: Dear-to-my-hearta Marta
She's a total babe (despite having been named the manly-sounding "Golden Ball" MVP at the FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship), albeit one who can kick you studs-up in your naughty bits if you get on her bad side. Fortunately, Los Angeles Lakers superstar and avid soccer fan Kobe Bryant is on her good side, so good that he's given her free courtside season tickets to Lakers home games (hmmm, I wonder if the roaming-eye hoopster's trying to score some extra added time with her - if so, someone should tell him about the locker room allegations that Marta's secret girlfriend is fellow Sol sister Johanna Frisk, her former teammate at Swedish club Umea IK; in fact, it was even alleged that Marta only signed with LA Sol after they agreed to sign her blondie "best boo" Frisk).
Marta and Frisky: Playing for the "other" team?
Brazilian fans have compared her to all-time soccer great Pele (Edison Arantes do Nascimento), even going so far as to refer to her as "Pele with a skirt" - and she remains the only woman ever to have a cement imprint of her feet immortalized alongside those of the male stars at Brazil's famous national stadium Estádio do Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro. It's easy to see why: she's a superstar (see highlights reel).
Marta highlights reel
Unfortunately, despite all her many talents and accolades, the WPS Championship Game was an all-too-familiar result for Marta.
Unachieved Goals: Marta's Brazil was only second best
Though she won four consecutive regular season titles with Umea IK in Sweden's domestic women's soccer league from 2005-2008, Marta has yet to hoist any post-season trophies other than Sweden's 2007 Svenska Cup and the 2007 U-20 Pan American Games cup. Playing for her national side at the 2004 and 2008 Summer Olympics, Brazil finished second, while the national side was also the runnerup in the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup.
Marta is the pin-up gal of Nike ads
Though Marta's Brazil lost the Women's World Cup championship game to Germany 2-0, they did beat the US in a game that featured a fantastic Marta goal.
Marta's world-class World Cup goal against the USA
Ah, but there's more to life than futbol and my gal's second favorite sport is none other than tennis...which brings me to Zi Yan.
Yes I Yan! Zi Yan of China
Channel surfing the Tennis Channel, I happened across the doubles final of the LA Women's Tennis Championship, which pitted two Eastern Euro gals - Agnieszka Radwańska of Poland and Maria Kirilenko of Russia - against two Chinese players, Chia-Jung Chuang of Chinese Taipei (otherwise known as Taiwan) and Zi Yan of China.
"Nice Formosa forehand partner!"
Zi Yan (R) compliments Taiwanese partner Chuang
"We've got to stop meeting like this!"
mainlander Yan (L) tells islander Chuang
It was the first ever pairing of the Chinese women, whose partnership accentuated their strengths and offset their weaknesses - namely, Chuang was all serve but no volley and Zi Yan was all volley and no serve (her serve was so bad that she actually double-faulted three times in a love-nothing game in which not a single ball crossed the net!). Their opponents across the net were somewhat similar in their symbiotic relationship, with Kirilenko the steadier server and net player, while baselinner Radwanska had a weak serve (mid-70s mph) but stronger groundstrokes.
We can work it out: Zi Yan and Chia-Jung Chuang
offset each other's weaknesses
Ah, but at the net the tall but slight (5-7, 120 lbs) Zi Yan was a volley monster - pouncing, poaching, and pummeling away anything that came her way with her two-handed forehand and backhand. Despite being shafted when serving for the match at 5-3 by a horrendous umpire's overrule (the umpire thought an unreturnable winning lob on championship point was returnable - even though the Euro babes didn't contest it and had started walking off the court! - and ordered the point replayed), the Chinese duo broke back to take the title 6-0, 6-4, characteristically winning on yet another two-handed passing shot by Yan, who at the net was a veritable Great Wall of China; nothing got past her.
Tall and tan and young and lovely
the girl from Chendu, Sichuan goes walking
Yan's lithe frame and weak serve typifies the problems facing Chinese women's tennis: with the possible exceptions of Li Na and Peng Shuai, the Chinese athletes lack the power to compete in singles with the heavy-hitting Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova's in the top echelon of the sport. That's why the Chinese tennis federation has concentrated on developing competitive doubles teams, where finese and volleying moxie are more important than booming serves and heavy baseline groundstrokes. Yan would have trouble making the cut of most singles tournaments on the women's tour, but as a doubles player paired with someone who can hold serve, she could be a legitimate contender for some more silverware, like the LA Women's Tennis Championship (shown below).
We are the champions!
Previously, Yan enjoyed some success partnering with Jie Zheng, with whom she won the 2008 Medibank International in Sydney, Australia (shown below).
Yan and Zheng raising their cups to success in Sydney
Zheng certainly fits the bill as the type of player Yan partners well with, being a consistent server with good groundstrokes (especially her two-handed backhand), famously reaching the 2008 Wimbledon semifinals - making her the first Chinese women's tennis player ever to reach the semifinals of a Grand Slam singles tournament - after beating then-World No. 1 Ana Ivanovic and two other Top 20 WTA players, elevating her to her highest tour ranking of No. 40.
Of course, on a purely aesthetic level, I love to watch the perky Zi Yan receiving serve, bouncing on her heels and stretching those gorgeous breadstick legs of hers (perhaps the best gams on the women's tour) side-to-side; at moments like this, life is good.
Zi Yan's leg show
Yan's glam gams
Pretty pegs pouncing
A 7th inning-worthy stretch
Speaking of doubles, check out Burhard Bilger's excellent article "Perfect Match" in this week's New Yorker magazine about the Bryan brothers (identical twins Bob and Mike) and the future of the doubles game. It's one of the best pieces of sports writing I've read. It makes the point that in the 70s and 80s, more singles players played doubles (e.g., Martina Navaratilova and John McEnroe) both to make money (prize money was laughably low) and to hone their skills as volleyers and that today's singles players are almost exclusively one-dimensional and cookie-cutter: big servers who power groundstrokes from the baseline. Combined with changes in racquet technology, this has all but killed the serve-and-volley game. The article also makes a great point about how John McEnroe's singles career took a nose-dive in the mid-80s when he stopped playing doubles; he may have been more rested, but what Mac (who never liked to practice all that much) gained in time he ultimately lost in maintaining his sharpness at the net. (Not much, mind you - Mac's a great volleyer still, but it made a difference in terms of titles, for sure.)
Zi Yan @ Sony Ericcson WTA Tour