October 23, 2011

It's About Time

It was quite an eventful week in Moscow as the ladies wrapped up their regular season events and the men put in last-ditch efforts to qualify for London. But for the players who made it to the end, their rewards may have longer-lasting impacts than just the one title.

It's been a banner year for Janko Tipsarevic -- fresh off a big win over Andy Roddick at the 2010 U.S. Open and a Davis Cup trophy, he was poised for big things. Though he failed in attempts to capture his first title in both Delray Beach and Eastbourne, he nevertheless climbed to a career-high ranking on the heels of a run to the semis in Cincinnati and quarters in New York. And in his fifth appearance in a championship match, he finally did one better than runner-up when he took the crown in Kuala Lumpur. He came to Moscow as the top seed and, though he stumbled slightly in the first set against Igor Kunitsyn, he quickly rebound and dominated the way to his fourth final of the year.

There he met his friend and compatriot Viktor Troicki, incidentally the winner here last year. The third-ranked Serb had been moving up the rankings himself this year, but with four first round losses in his last five tournaments, momentum was not on his side. He had a tough road in Russia, needing three tiebreak sets to get through Alex Bogomolov in the quarters, but ultimately returned to the finals to set up the first all-Serbian title match in ATP history.

But ultimately the defender, who had won their only previous meeting here three years ago, wasn't able to get the better of the on-paper favorite this time. Though Troicki was able to overcome a service deficit early and did out-ace his opponent in the first set, Tipsarevic finally got the go-ahead break in the ninth game and did serve it out. He stayed aggressive early in the second, pressuring Troicki in his first service game, and broke again a few games later. By then it was all over, and it was London-hopeful Tipsarevic hoisting the trophy this time.

Things weren't quite so smooth in the women's draw in Moscow. Top players Vera Zvonareva and red-hot Aggie Radwanska both fell early in the week. In fact Linz finalist Dominika Cibulkova was the only seed to make the semifinals -- after stunning Vera in the quarters, she smashed through doubles specialist Elena Vesnina on Saturday to make her second championship match in as many weeks.

In the other half of the bracket Kaia Kanepi, who's fallen substantially from the career high #16 ranking she held earlier in the year, was putting on an impressive display herself. Unseeded here, she was nevertheless able to upset French Open runner-up Francesca Schiavone and two-time Major winner Svetlana Kuznetsova in back-to-back matches. Having won a title last year in Palermo, she may not have been the favorite, but she was surely the more comfortable on this stage.

And it seemed Kanepi's experience would win out early in the match. She broke the diminutive Slovak in the fourth game of the match before taking the first set and stayed strong after losing break point in the second to force a tiebreak. But Cibulkova won seven straight points to push the match to a decider and after failing to consolidate a break twice in the third set, she finally held serve when it counted most and was able to capture that elusive first title. And after the year she's had -- wins over Zvonareva, world #1 Caroline Wozniacki and Wimbledon finalist Maria Sharapova -- it was certainly quite well-deserved.

As the season winds down for all these athletes, it's nice to see them bringing their best play even at the end. And especially for two newly minted champions who've waiting a long time to bring home those maiden trophies, it's the best way to cap off the year. Now that they have the confidence that comes with success, there's really no telling what they can do in 2012.

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