The other day, six masked robbers tied up Russian tennis star Anna Chakvetadze and stole more than US$300,000 in cash, jewelry and other valuables from her home.
Crime. Money. Bling. Tennis finally is starting to get it. This is how it's done. This is how you get attention in the wide world of sports.
But in the name of Michael Vick, what took so long?
If professional tennis is registering on the national radar, it's about the size of a malnourished pinprick. Interest in the sport is on a par with interest in beige paint at a DayGlo plant. Do I care that Roger Federer beat David Ferrer at the Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai? About as much as I care about the world championship of lint.
But throw in a holdup or a kidnapping, and you've got me!
There is, however, a lot of work to do. For example, have you ever heard of a tennis star being involved in a bar fight? I don't believe you have. It's the next frontier.
Although I don't condone violence or crime in any way, shape or form, I do know that it seems to work for other sports. Or at least that it hasn't hurt them.
Look at major-league baseball. The game never has been healthier financially, despite the raging controversy about performance-enhancing drugs in the game. If Roger Clemens were to pitch against Barry Bonds amid snowdrifts and used syringes in Iowa, 40,000 people would show up, guaranteed.
Pro football, fueled mostly by illegal gambling, is hugely popular, despite murder and mayhem and felony charges galore off the field. Surely someone in the NFL's corporate offices is wondering how to transfer those criminal leanings on to the field. Hmmmm . . . a real shotgun formation?
In the NHL, the Islanders' Chris Simon recently was suspended 30 games for stomping on an opposing player with a skate. That's five more games than the suspension he served last season for hitting another player in the face with a stick. (In regard to those two incidents, it's like we on the sports-crime beat always say: Hey, these things happen!) Although hockey isn't a huge draw, the important thing to remember is that it's trying.
In the NBA, we have Indiana's Jamaal Tinsley, who somehow avoided injury last week after someone with a .223-caliber assault rifle sprayed his car. And Eddy Curry and Antoine Walker were robbed at gunpoint in separate incidents over the summer in the Chicago area.
Getting the hang of it
Now, let's be clear here. A sport can aspire to this kind of attention-getting behavior, but it doesn't happen overnight. You think the NFL just thought up a Tank Johnson? No sir. This takes time. This takes nurturing.
But the people who inhabit the world of pro tennis appear to be getting the hang of it.
The sport might have a gambling scandal on its hands. Several players have stepped forward to say they have been approached about throwing matches in exchange for cash. Both the men's and the women's tours have investigated suspicious betting patterns in a handful of matches. There apparently were wagering irregularities in a match between Russian Nikolay Davydenko and Argentine Martin Vassallo Arguello in August. Davydenko, ranked fourth in the world, retired from the match with a foot injury.
That's what I'm talking about! Possible Russian mafia infiltration! Payoffs in darkened alleys! Threats of fingers being removed!
At this rate, who will be pure enough to wear white at Wimbledon?
Remember when Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs faced off in the Battle of the Sexes in 1973? The only way that works as entertainment now is if one is carrying a Glock automatic while the other poses nude.
Remember when John McEnroe was considered a bad boy? He would be amateur hour today. I mean, Rasheed Wallace curses out a referee before he gets out of bed in the morning. A 2004 book reported that 40 percent of NBA players had criminal records. That wistful sigh you just heard is tennis officials dreaming.
Professional tennis hasn't mattered in a long time. Serena Williams, who seems to spend as much time on outrageous tennis outfits as she does tennis, seems to understand this. And still the sport could use some help beyond sartorial splendor.
Former No. 1 player Martina Hingis recently retired from tennis after admitting she tested positive for cocaine, though she disputes the findings.
Nicely played. We can work with that.
Next up: Golf, the gentleman's sport. Ever wonder how Tiger Woods would look in a prison uniform?