August 4, 2012

Golden Domination

We knew that by the end of today's Gold medal match we would make history -- either world #2 Maria Sharapova or Wimbledon champion Serena Williams would walk away with the elusive Golden Slam, winning each of the Majors and the championship medal at the Olympics. It's a rare honor only three people have achieved before and given the legacy both have created over the last ten-plus years, it's hard to choose two women more deserving of the prize.

But I don't know that anyone would have predicted such a one-sided performance as the one we got today.

The match took just over an hour, the scoreline reading 6-0, 6-1 in favor of the American. Sharapova didn't get on the board until the tenth game of the match, won fewer than half of the total points and managed only six winners in total -- one-fourth the number Serena scored. It was Williams' biggest win over the recent world #1 -- since that stunning loss to the Russian in the 2004 Wimbledon final, she's only lost once to Sharapova, and in her wins has ceded fewer and fewer games as time passed.

Serena's victory Saturday was more than the story of just one match, though -- it was the culmination of a season in which she's time and time again dominated the best women in the sport. This week alone, she easily ousted a couple former #1s -- Jelena Jankovic in her opener and Caroline Wozniacki in the quarters -- a two-time Major finalist and the current top-ranked player. In her first five matches in London she only dropped serve once, fired off thirty-seven aces and lost just sixteen games. Considering the quality of her opponent in the final and how much was on the line, her showing today was arguably even more impressive.

But the thirty-year-old's streak has been going strong for quite some time longer. Since she returned to the game post-injury last June, she's beaten thirteen top ten players, eleven of them in straight sets. She's only lost three times in 2012, with two of those defeats coming at the hands of players who really just caught her off guard. Against the best, Serena seems to always be on her game these days -- even more so than before her injury. She may stumble a bit, but she always seems to pull out the big guns when history is on the line. And the way she continues to play, it looks like there will be more for her to make in the coming seasons.

Williams' win today makes her the second woman, after Steffi Graf, to complete the Golden Slam. With Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka, who exhibited a slightly more muted domination of Russia's Maria Kirilenko in the earlier Bronze medal match, occupying the rest of the podium, you could argue that the best of women's tennis was certainly represented at the Summer Games this year. But while no one's efforts in London should be discounted, it sure seems like that top spot in London reaches just a bit higher than all the others.

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