October 11, 2010

Once the Clouds Cleared...

Rain delayed the singles championships at the China Open in Beijing this weekend, forcing both the men's and women's finals to be played Monday. But the matches were certainly worth the wait.

There were plenty of upsets in the men's draw from the get-go. Tomas Berdych and Fernando Verdasco were dropped in their opening matches, while second-seeded Andy Murray and #3 Robin Soderling lost two rounds later. That paved the way for defending champion Novak Djokovic and world #11 David Ferrer to advance to the title round.

I admit I'd almost written of Nole earlier in the year -- even though he'd notched a decent record, after a win in Dubai, he suffered early losses in Miami and Queen's Club and had to retire in the quarters of his home tournament in Belgrade. It wasn't until his magnificent run in New York that I started to take note of him again. Now firmly entrenched in the #2 spot, he qualified for the London championships with his semifinal win in China.

Ferrer has been slightly less on the radar this year, though he's really only had one bad loss -- to triple-digit ranked Stephane Robert in Johannesburg. He made the finals in Rome and Buenos Aires and took the title in Acapulco, and notched wins over Andy Murray and Tomas Berdych at previous tournaments before knocking out Soderling in Beijing.

But asking him to go up against a man on as good a roll as Djokovic is might have been too much. The two got in a couple games on Sunday before the storms rolled in, but Novak got off to an early lead before play was halted. He converted another break when play resumed on Monday and took the first set 6-2. Though play was closer in the second, ultimately the top seeded Serb was able to defend his title in straight sets and improved to 5-4 against Ferrer. It was the second time this year he successfully defended a title.

The ladies' final was slightly more dramatic with the two contenders poised to take their highest ever rankings once the latest rankings are released. Caroline Wozniacki secured her #1 ranking a few days ago when she defeated Petra Kvitova in Beijing while Vera Zvonareva's victory over French Open champion Francesca Schiavone in the quarters, pushed her up to #3. As the top two seeds in China, neither had to pull off any major coups to make the championship round, but pitting them against each other in a rematch of the U.S. Open semis seemed somehow appropriate. Vera had won that one in less than ninety minutes, rebounding nicely after losing to Wozniacki in the Montreal finals just a few weeks earlier.

But this time it was Caro's chance to rebound -- down a break early in the first set, she got back even and rattled off five straight games to take the lead. Though she allowed the Russian to get back in the match in the second set, she got the only break in the third, and held serve the rest of the match to win her sixth title of the year. Not a bad way to wrap up an Asian run in which she captured two straight titles at events where she'd never even won a match before this year.

With all the hype around the year's Grand Slams put to bed, it's nice to see the world's top players put in such big efforts at the remaining tournaments. And for Nole and Caro, it's even more impressive that they can follow through after reaching major milestones in their careers.

And what a great opportunity to really let their talent shine.

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