And a big weekend in tennis comes to a close with some star-powered finals.
Let’s talk Serena Williams, first, who won the biggest title this weekend with her 6-4, 6-3 victory over Maria Sharapova in the finals of the WTA Championships. The match was played in front of a crowd of over 16,000 wonderfully enthusiastic fans (I loved hearing them cheer!), and Serena wasn’t going to disappoint them. She hit an amazing 40 winners in the match to only 14 errors. Say what? It’s amazing that Maria held on as long as she did, facing those kinds of stats.
After watching Serena’s performance this week you just have to get down – on your knees – and say “Too damn good.” This season we’ve watched Serena’s power game at its peak: the best serve in women’s tennis history and the searing groundstrokes we’ve come to expect plus potent improvements in both her mental stability on court (despite one significant blip of confidence at the French) and her ability to limit unforced errors. It’s no wonder she’s scored one of her best seasons ever, winning a whopping seven titles including Wimbledon, the Olympics (singles and doubles) and the US Open. The only time she’s won more in a season was ten years ago, when she won eight titles including three Majors.
The WTA offers a few more awesome numbers for Serena to savor: she’s won 47 of her last 49 matches, is 58-4 in wins-losses for the season, is riding an 11-match winning streak against Top 2 players, and has beaten Sharapova nine straight times. In fact, the last time Maria scored a victory over Serena was eight years ago at this same event. And don’t think Serena’s forgotten it:
“I actually thought about the last time we played at the WTA Championships, and she won and she’s also ranked ahead of me right now, so I really had nothing to lose. I feel great right now. This was exactly my dream and I’m so happy I was able to achieve it. ” (Serena via the WTA)
Which brings us to the one number that isn’t going Serena’s way this season: she’ll end the year ranked No. 3, behind Azarenka and Sharapova, two players she “owns”. Serena’s coach even wondered (via the NYTimes) if there’ a “bug” in the WTA’s ranking system.
Serena didn’t take the opportunity for another “Real No. 1″ throw down, but she did agree with recent assessments of her invincibility (per the NYTimes):
“I always said that if I’m playing well and I’m doing everything right, you know, it’s really difficult to beat me,” Williams said when asked if she was invincible when at her best. “I still believe that, which is great that I still can kind of play that way. You know, I feel like there are ways for me to improve, but I feel like it’s — I think it’s a true statement — without trying to sound full of myself or anything.”
Not that Serena’s modesty is keeping her from savoring this Championship cherry on her hot fudge sundae of a season:
“Now I can be honest. I really wanted to win this title, and I put a little pressure on myself. Yeah, I wanted it so bad, but I didn’t want to say it. Like it was really important to me to end the year with this title in particular.” (via Fox)
“I was like a heavy favorite going in to win this title, so for me it was really important. I mean, for my own sanity, so to say. I really wanted it, even though I didn’t need it. Like I don’t think I needed to do anything else this year — or any other year — but I really wanted to end on a good note.”(NYTimes)
“I would say it’s pretty much the best season of my career, a little bit of a slow start though, so I have to give it to 2002 – but there’s always 2013.” (via the WTA)
So there you have it - winning keeps Serena sane. No wonder she’s been so poised in 2012.
Congrats to Russians Maria Kirilenko and Nadia Petrova, who won the doubles title in Istanbul.
Now onto the men’s side, and World Number 1 Roger Federer, who was working on his own impressive numbers this week. He was playing for his sixth title in his hometown tournament in Basel. Roger’s won Basel five of the last six years, and had beaten his opponent in Sunday’s final, Juan Martin Del Potro, seven straight times. But the Argentine has been on his own upswing this season, winning three titles prior to Basel, including one just last week in Vienna, and stretching Roger to five sets at this year’s Roland Garros and to 19-17 in the final set of their Olympic semifinals. So it was only a mild surprise, at most, when Del Potro took the Swiss title today in yet another tight match: 6-4, 6-7(5), 7-6(3).
“It was an unbelievable final, the match was really close,” said del Potro (via ATP). “After six losses, it was a big win for me. I was fighting all the time. I got lucky in the end, but I felt that I played a really good match.
“You deserved it,” Roger told Juan after the match. “You had a couple of tough losses against me this year and I’m really happy for you.”
Roger told reporters that Juan Martin has returned to his best form (via the ATP):
“He has been playing really well this season. I have played him seven times. Every time, I can see he is extremely tough. He has been making the right improvements throughout the year. He is, basically, right there again.”
Juan Martin has now beaten Roger three times out of their sixteen meetings. The other two victories came in 2009, when the Argentine was at his “right there” best and he beat Roger in the US Open final and the round robin stage of the World Tour Finals. So despite the lopsided look of their 3-13 head-to-head, it appears that the Del Potro vs. Federer rivalry is shaping up to be a goodie (Gulp! go the Fed fans!)
In related news, Roger’s pulled out of the upcoming Paris Masters, telling reporters:
“It’s just too much, I was trying to make up my mind and I had some little niggling stuff I didn’t want to take a chance on.”
“I feel very disappointed. I had one of the best weeks of my life there last year, but this is just a last-minute decision.” (via the AP)
“I’m not going. It’s the only right decision for me. . .I need some time to prepare.” via ESPN
As disappointed as I am that we won’t be watching Roger ply his trade on the lightening fast courts at Bercy next week, I must admit that I’m relieved by his decision to rest up. Though this weekend’s loss and next week’s withdrawal means that Roger’s ceded the year end No. 1 ranking to Novak Djokovic, Roger’s always put a lot of stock into the World Tour Finals. A victory in London will not get him the year end No. 1, but it will be an “as good as” kind of feeling for him it he manages to win it.
Last but not least, the always reliable David Ferrer pulled off the hometown hero role this weekend, winning his third title in Valencia with a 6-1, 3-6, 6-4 victory over Alexandr Dogopolov. This is the Spaniard’s sixth title for the season. After he won, he gave his friend and recent ATP retiree, Juan Carlos Ferrero, a hug and said:
“It’s always very difficult to play at home. . .I want to dedicate the victory to Juan Carlos Ferrero on his farewell. He has given me the opportunity to grow as a person and as a player.” (via the ATP)
David continues to prove himself as a world class player and human being. Gotta love this guy!