August 14, 2011

The Streak Resumes

It's been a while since we've seen the biggest stars in tennis all take to the courts. And though not all of them made it through the early rounds at the Rogers Cup, the ones who did quickly picked up the momentum that's been with them either since the start of the year or since the beginning of their careers.

Novak Djokovic came to Montreal to play his first tournament since taking over the #1 ranking post Wimbledon. And he was dealt a tough draw too, tested early by former top-three player Nikolay Davydenko and running into a rebuilding Marin Cilic a round later. But with most of his toughest competition taken care of for him, he eventually progressed to his ninth final of the year without dropping a set.

There he faced a challenge from recent U.S.-circuit stalwart Mardy Fish. The top-ranked American has been having a more-than-successful thirteen months, reaching a career-high ranking and notching wins over the likes of Tomas Berdych, David Ferrer and Andy Murray, to name a few. He had a slightly bumpier road to Sunday's championship, but avenged his LA loss to Ernests Gulbis and withstood a second-set challenge from Stanislas Wawrinka in the fourth round. For a man who'd never won a match in Canada before, making the final was quite a statement.

Djokovic got off to a good start, saving five break chances in the first set to take the lead. He stumbled a bit in the second, though, as Fish upped his serving percentage from a dismal one-for-three and broke his opponent at love to even the score. The two hard-hitters kept it close in the decider, but the American wasn't able to make much of a dent on Nole's serve. After almost two and a half hours Djokovic claimed his tenth Masters 1000 title, a record fifth this year, and became the first man in three decades to win the first tournament he played after climbing to the #1 spot. With just one match loss on his docket for 2011, he could be poised to restart the streak that got him so much attention to start the year.

A little further west another champion was trying to continue a streak she'd re-kicked off a bit more recently. Since returning to competition in June, Serena Williams won the third event she played two weeks ago in Stanford, and though she was still unseeded in Toronto she played like she'd never been gone. After dominating Julia Goerges in her opener, she survived scares from both Jie Zheng and Lucie Safarova to make the semis. Against world #4 Victoria Azarenka, a woman who'd given her fits in several of their previous meetings, she was convincing in victory.

On the other half of the draw a recently struggling Sam Stosur worked her way through the bracket. Since riding a victory over Serena at last year's French Open to the final, she hasn't seemed to have her feet under her. She'd failed to defend many of the points she'd racked up last year and had lost two first rounds coming to Canada. But she was in good form through Sunday's final, beating this year's Roland Garros champ Li Na in the third round and dismissing Carlsbad winner Aggie Radwanska in the semis.

But Serena was in control from the start against the Australian today. After a fairly close first set she turned up the juice in the second, firing off seven aces and winning all but one point on first serve. Allowing her opponent just one chance to break during the match -- one that was not converted, incidentally -- the former #1 claimed her first Rogers Cup since 2001 and guaranteed her ranking would climb even further out of the doldrums.

Both Serena and Novak have spent the week proving they are not challenges to be taken lightly, as if we didn't already know as much. And as they pick up the runs that were interrupted -- whether for minutes or for months -- they'll be bringing some serious momentum with them to the fast-approaching U.S. Open.

And if anyone else stands a chance against them, they'll need to bring something very special.

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