March 20, 2011

The Ones to Beat

The tennis landscape sure has been shifting over the past couple months. Once a sport dominated by a few big names, we're starting to see not necessarily new faces pop up at trophy ceremonies, but certainly a couple quite loudly asserting themselves as real powerhouses in the sport.

Caroline Wozniacki has held the #1 ranking almost exclusively since October, but has constantly contended with complaints that she's not in the same league as players like Kim Clijsters or Serena Williams. Maybe that's true -- she's never beaten either yet -- but watching her battle through one opponent after another in Indian Wells, you realize that she's pretty darn close.

Last year's runner-up made her way back to the finals on Sunday where this time she faced Marion Bartoli, the beneficiary of Clijsters' retirement in the fourth round. She barreled through the first set, breaking the Frenchwoman at nearly every turn and winning almost seventy percent of the total points. And though she suffered a minor brain cramp in the second, she regrouped nicely in the third. Both ladies withstood long rallies and chased down balls that neither had any business getting to. But in the end it was Wozniacki who found the smallest of holes in Bartoli's backboard. Taking advantage of Marion's fatigue and nerves, Caroline finally wrapped up the match in just over two hours, clinching her fourteenth career title and further solidifying her ranking.

Novak Djokovic went about his business in the desert in a slightly different manner. After stomping over his first three challengers, he pulled off yet another upset of Roger Federer in the semis to return to the championship match. And like at last year's U.S. Open, he would again face world #1 Rafael Nadal and again find himself down a set to start the match.

But after trading breaks in the second set against his familiar opponent, he rattled off six straight games, evening the score on the way and running off to a two-break lead in the decider. The usually calm and collected Nadal was visibly rattled in the third and couldn't make any headway in his own service games. Though both men were able to produce some stunning shots, it was eventually Djokovic that held stronger -- never allowing a break chance, he definitively sealed the deal with a love hold in the eighth game, and reminded us that he's got his sights set a little higher than the #2 ranking he'll regain on Monday.

Their wins bring Wozniacki to an impressive 19-3 record on the year and Djokovic to an astounding 20-0. We know that neither is bulletproof, but over the past few months, they've both done everything they can to put themselves on everyone's radar.

And the way they're playing, they might all be shaking in their boots.

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