August 13, 2009

Riding the Roller Coaster

Ohio is known for housing some of the greatest amusement park rides in the country, but for two weeks, not far from the thrilling twists and turns of these world-class roller coasters, is the similarly exciting action of the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters and Women's tournament in Cincinnati. While I'll be there next weekend to watch the men's final, this week's ladies play has proven to be hugely exhilerating.

With all of the top fourteen players on the WTA Tour entering the draw, along with former #1 Kim Clijsters, making her post-retirement comeback, you knew the quality of play would be high, but I'm not sure anyone was expecting quite so many surprises.

Top-ranked Dinara Safina has been on the mother of all roller coasters this year, winning three titles (the ups), making and losing two Grand Slam finals (the plateaus), and falling to players like Jie Zheng, Tamarine Tanasugarn and Virginie Razzano (the downs). She's got a lot of ranking points coming off this season, and after she failed to defend in Los Angeles I wondered if she had the strength and mentality to pull through. But so far in Cincy she's looked in top form, dropping a set to Roberta Vinci, but making the quarters with a decisive win over Shuai Peng.

Less lucky was the number two seed and Dinara's nemesis all year Serena Williams, who was shocked in her third round by Sybille Bammer. The twenty-ninth ranked Austrian was aggressive the entire match, winning seventy percent of her service points and breaking Serena three times. It was just the latest in a year that's been just as up-and-down for Williams -- while ostensibly she's had a much more successful year than Safina, winning three of the last four Grand Slams, one of my Twitter followers correctly points out that Serena hasn't won a non-Major even since last April in Charleston. In fact she lost in three straight semifinals and three straight first rounds. It's not a career-ender by any means, but it's got to be frustrating to be so inconsisent in matches where she's so clearly the favorite.

Incidentally Serena's older sister also lost today to LA champion Flavia Pennetta. That gives the Italian a 4-3 lifetime record over the third-ranked Venus. She's clearly climbing on her own roller coaster track, and I'm certainly hoping there's no crash on the other end.

Of course the big story this week has been the return of Belgium's Clijsters who announced in March that she was requesting a wild card entry to the U.S. Open after a two-year absense -- and so far she's been playing like she never left. Her success isn't that surprising, as she was ranked fourth in the world when she retired, but she's been impressive in her wins over Stanford winner Marion Bartoli and French Open champ Svetlana Kuznetsova. Next up she faces her biggest test against Safina, but if her ride this week is any indication, the ladies will have a lot to fear when they get to Flushing Meadows.

We all know the laws of gravity dictate that what goes up must come down, and all of these women have experienced both highs and lows akin to the most heart-stopping of roller coasters.

But, thankfully for us fans, the longer the ride lasts, the more fun we all have!

No comments: