Well, what should have been an uneventful couple weeks of random tournaments scattered around the globe turned out to be ripe for new developments and story lines. Here are some that made us go “hmmmmm”:
1. Rafa’s return. Well, he didn’t manage to win his very first tournament back, losing to Horacio Zeballos in the finals of the VTR Open in Chile. (Hey at least he made the final.) But Rafa did go right back to work this past week at the Brazil Open, where he won his 51st career title and his first since last year’s French Open by beating David Nalbandian (wait, Daveed is still playing?) 6-2, 6-3 in Sunday’s final in São Paulo.
Before the final, Rafa told the press that he still has a ways to go both mentally and physically. I thought this quote was particularly revealing:
“I’m missing all the things that make me competitive and give me physical confidence, something I’ve had for my whole career and that right now, given the circumstances, I don’t have,” he told reporters. “I’m playing with what I’ve got and I hope to get stronger every day. … I’m lacking speed in my reactions. I’m lacking energy when I need it. I’m lacking power in my legs to be able to hit the ball deep.”
Though Rafa claims that he’s far from 100 percent, these past couple of weeks have shown that he’s not going to let the likes of Murray, Nole or Roger glide easily to clay court titles this season. That said, I bet Novak is loving his chances to nab the career slam this season. But let’s take a cue from Rafa and not get ahead of ourselves – the Spaniard claims to just be focusing on next week’s Acapulco tournament.
Rafa is taking the long view when it comes to his schedule this season, already planting the seed that Indian Wells is likely not in the cards. Said Rafa in Brazil:
“Let’s see how my knee responds in Acapulco, we will discuss when we finish all this clay court [swing] what has happened during these three tournaments and what I thought about it. Then we will see if we are ready to play in Indian Wells or not. It is not a matter of better rivals or surface, is a matter of how my knee is progressing. I have no problem playing against better [quality] opponents better because I accept losing or winning.”
After seven months of recuperation, it’s a bit troubling that the knee is still sketchy. Rafa’s always been cautious about his physical condition, though, so we can hope that he’s just continuing that train of thought. One thing that we can be sure of is that he’s going to play fewer hard court events whenever possible.
Roger Federer has already announced that he’s skipping Miami this year.
2. Speaking of Roger, he suffered a surprise loss to fellow 31-year-old Julien Benneteau in Rotterdam, losing the quarterfinal match and a bunch of rankings points, as he was the defending champ. Julien is famous for – well nothing in particular – though he did get everyone’s attention when he took Roger to five sets in the third round of Wimbledon last year (almost costing Fed his 17th Major title!) Julien broke Roger’s serve five times last week. Roger also had some problems with his serve in Australia. The old Swiss guy will need to get the mojo going on that shot if he wants to challenge for a Major this year. Hopefully it’s not a back issue.
Juan Martin Del Potro beat Julien in the final, handing the Frenchman his eighth defeat in as many finals appearances. Ouch.
3. The real No. 1? Well, well, I have to hand it to Vika – she’s making things interesting on the women’s tour. She took matters into her own hands in this weekend’s final in Doha, which is not an easy thing to do against Serena Williams. The Australian Open titlist beat the American 7-6 (6), 2-6, 6-3 in the final of the Qatar Open, punctuating the victory by waving her trademark pointer finger in the air (the way Vika does it, it should really be the middle finger.) Though Azarenka hadn’t beaten Serena since 2009, she was two points away from taking the US Open title from her last season and this victory signals that we may finally have a real rivalry brewing between the two fierce competitors. This is great for the fans and also great motivation for Serena, who swiped the No. 1 ranking from Vika in Doha after beating Kvitova in a three-set quarterfinal.
Serena’s now the oldest woman to ever hold the No. 1 ranking. I absolutely love her reaction to this impressive accomplishment:
The two finalists had some generous words for one another after the match (via ESPN):
Williams on Azarenka: “I always respect Victoria. I think she’s a really good player. Obviously she’s so consistent and she plays well. It’s nice to always play someone that you go home and you’re like, `OK, I didn’t do great, but let me work harder’. She inspires a lot of people to work harder, and definitely me.”
Azarenka on Williams:“I feel like we’re pushing each other to go to the limit every time, to step up, to improve, and that’s tremendous motivation to have. You always know that somebody’s out there wants to push you. For me, it’s incredible privilege to be in that position.”
The results this past week highlight how the competition, drama and stories continue to grow stronger on the WTA side of the game. Yay!
So, what do you think about these developments? Are these early season blips or will these story lines run the course of the season? Anything I missed?