Thursday, 25 October 2012

Serena and Vika set for US Open rematch

After only two days of the season ending WTA Championships in Istanbul, it has become clear that the number one ranked player in the world is in the right frame of mind and showing the necessary form and determination to again feature in the finale of the finale.  Victoria Azarenka is finishing 2012 in much the same way she began - winning everything.

However, the best player in the world, if not often ranked that these days, is just as threatening, and Serena Williams has dispensed with both Angelique Kerber and Li Na in straight sets.  True her win against China's number one failed to thrill, but if the opponent is offering little, even the finest can be dragged down a level or two in performance.  Pity the next opponent who is on the receiving end of an adequate Williams serving exhibition, let alone a Wimbledon or Olympics repeat.

The 1 and 3 seeds are set to meet in a round robin match before the semis are decided, but Serena has already qualified for one of those 4 spots, and Vika need only defeat an out of sorts Li Na to join her.

One of the semi finalists from the other group will be Maria Sharapova, having won both her matches so far.  Agnieszka Radwanska will complete the final four and fittingly see the top 4 ranked players fighting for the riches but only if she accounts for Sara Errani in her final round robin clash.  Her form suggests that this will occur, having pushed Sharapova to the absolute limit in their epic 3 setter.

Sara Errani can make it through should she defeat Sam Stosur and Radwanska.  Sam Stosur, who replaced Petra Kvitova following the Czech star's withdrawal due to illness, can also reach the semis, but must beat Errani first up, repeat her recent success over Sharapova, and hope that Errani defeats Radwanska.

My feeling is that all of this will count for little, because Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka should win their respective semi finals, regardless of the opposition they face, and we will have another clash between the two in a final to savour.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Djokovic Defiant

Nothing, not even winning all the remaining tournaments of 2012, would compensate Novak Djokovic from the disappointment of losing the US Open final to Andy Murray, especially after drawing level at two sets all and appearing to have the momentum.  However, as he has done all year, the world's best hard court player and best returner on any surface displayed to the Shanghai tennis fans, and those fortunate to be watching on their televisions at home that irrespective of world rankings, that the only important match is the current contest.

Andy Murray, forehand blazing, continued his Federer-conquering semi final form to rattle Djokovic in the first set, and at 5-4 30-0 in the second had the record books ready for a third successive entry of his name to the champions' honour roll.  Then, as in Melbourne where the Australian Open semi final and final featured the fighting qualities of the Serbian star at levels never before envisaged,  the match changed direction with a master class of innovation, skill and courage.

The deliberate between the legs shot from the baseline was stunning but not as delightful as the point winning, almost McEnroe-ish drop shot that brought the house down, and with it Andy's prospects.  Although Novak still needed to win the set to extend the match, most of those watching could see where this one was heading.  Or thought we could at least.

The tie break that eventuated was epic, and so it had to be if it wanted to be remembered as part of this great battle, and Andy again took charge with a handful of set points at various stages.  Djokovic played with daring and brilliance to save his skin, and when he had his third chance, won the set with a positive volley into the open court.  13-11 and Andy for all his winning ways could only show equality on the scoreboard.

Novak owned the third set, and after the longest three set match of the men's tour of 2012 he emerged with his third Masters title and an even firmer grip on the race to the ATP end of year Championships,  and End of Year number one ranking.

If Djokovic achieves the top position at the finish of a great year it will be fully deserved - he has won one Grand Slam title and been runner up twice - won 24 matches through those 4 tournaments, more than anyone else.  He has now won three of six finals in the Masters Series, again winning more matches than anyone else in that second tier category of tournament.

At no stage of 2012 has Novak Djokovic experienced a real trough of poor form - in 2011 his awesome feats up to and including the US Open and Davis Cup told on his body and he limped over the finish line with poor results in Paris and the ATP Championships.  This year has been ever consistent and at the end of the year we see him on a 10 match 2 tournament winning streak, looking the superior player on tour.   A final word for Andy Murray though - he is showing signs of becoming not just a threat for more major triumphs but 2013 may see him challenge for more than number three in the world.  He knows how to beat Federer now, and has the shots to place Djokovic in trouble.  If Rafa can come back fighting fit then  the best player in the world may be a true battle in four.

Right now the best player is certainly the winning Novak.