April 1, 2011

All April, No Fools

In the spirit of the pseudo-holiday, we should all expect to see some slight of racquet as we head into the last weekend of play in Miami. And after the seasonally obligatory showers rolled through Friday afternoon, it's only appropriate that the (D)jokers left standing were the ones able to come up with the magic all tournament long.

On the way to her third final in Key Biscayne, Maria Sharapova has put together one of her most impressive runs since coming back from shoulder surgery almost two years ago. Not that she hasn't been tested this week -- the Russian spent three and a half hours on court Tuesday before besting Alexandra Dulgheru in the quarters. Still, she was able to take advantage of the favored Sam Stosur in the fourth round and rebounded solidly after losing the first set to Andrea Petkovic yesterday. Over the last few days she's certainly played with more confidence than I've seen out of her in a while, and now she just might be able to walk away with her biggest title since 2008.

Of course, she'll have to make it through 2009 Miami champion Victoria Azarenka who's made a remarkable comeback after retiring in the Indian Wells quarters just two weeks ago. The young Belarusian faced an arguably more difficult road to the final in Miami, battling through three consecutive three-set matches to kick off her run. But she was able to take advantage of a sluggish Kim Clijsters, who ended her attempt at defense here last year, before steamrolling Vera Zvonareva in the semis. She beat MaSha convincingly in the last final they played, so she certainly has history on her side, and if she remains collected, she could easily make it two in a row.

On the men's side of the draw, the three players we've become so accustomed to seeing on finals weekend progressed as expected, with the most dominant athlete of the year continuing his success. At this point no one should be surprised to see Novak Djokovic follow one win with another (and another), but I was expecting a bit more fight out of Mardy Fish in the first semifinal of the day. But Nole made quick work out of the new American #1, dropping just four games in the match to make his fourth straight championship round.

To win yet another trophy on Sunday he'll have to repeat his win over Rafael Nadal, the man he beat just two weeks ago in Indian Wells. But the Spaniard has also been in rarefied form in Florida. His biggest test came Thursday, when he was forced to go three sets against last year's finalist Tomas Berdych -- comparatively his 6-3, 6-2 drubbing of Roger Federer Friday evening was a walk in the park. The way he's playing, it's no wonder you all said a Rafa/Nole final was most likely!

They might have pulled off quite a few tricks over the course of this event, but the way all four of these guys and girls are playing, it's clear they haven't fooled their way into the finals. And if they continue playing to their potential, it sure is going to be an exciting weekend!

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