April 1, 2013

No Easy Task

The fields sure were packed in Miami the last two weeks, but that didn't mean we were in for the same old stuff. Upsets peppered the draws from the start, with players like Angelique Kerber, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and even two-time defending champion Novak Djokovic all losing before their time. But even with some paths relatively cleared, the eventual champions found themselves a little more than tested as they made their way to the titles.

Serena Williams was going for her record-tying sixth trophy at the Sony Open, but for vast parts of her campaign, it looked like she was about to fall short. After some relatively easy early rounds, the world #1 -- playing her first event since reclaiming the top spot -- found herself down a set and a break to spunky Dominika Cibulkova in the fourth before getting herself together. Meanwhile Maria Sharapova, coming off a huge win in Indian Wells a fortnight ago, seemed to keep her roll going, tested only slightly in the quarterfinals when Sara Errani finally seemed to hold her own -- though not quite enough -- against the 2012 French Open winner. The Russian was on fire by the time she reached her second straight final on Saturday and even ended a thirteen-set win streak by the American when she jumped to a 6-4 lead in the championship. But Serena found a way to regroup, as she is want to do, and rattled off a string of ten games to end the match. The win -- somewhat shockingly, only her second title of the year, and her first since kicking off 2013 with a crown in Brisbane -- secures Williams' spot at #1 for another six weeks or so, but more importantly may cement her as the queen of Miami. And the way she's playing, it doesn't look like she's gonna relinquish that title any time soon.

Andy Murray was similarly tested on his quest to reclaim the trophy he last won in 2009. Like Serena, with whom he shared Brisbane singles honors back in January, the defending U.S. Open champ was tested through his campaign. He hung tough against youngsters like Bernard Tomic and Grigor Dimitrov early and dropped the opening set to Richard Gasquet in the semis. In the top half of the draw -- the one in which Indian Wells runner-up Juan Martin Del Potro was stunned by little-known Tobias Kamke in his opener and world #1 Djokovic was summarily sent home by a constantly resurgent Tommy Haas in the fourth round -- players like Jurgen Melzer and Gilles Simon were able to show their stuff. Ultimately, though, it was David Ferrer making his way to his fourth final of the year -- he needed three sets to get through Melzer and Haas, but won the first four games of the championship match before things turned sour for the Spaniard. Murray took control early in the second set and was able to force a tiebreak in the decider -- Ferrer wasn't able to put up a fight when it came down to it, and after nearly three hours of play it was Murray left standing, victorious, and back at the #2 ranking in the world.

The champions this week have certainly been in the winner's circle more than a few times in the past, and it sure seems like they'll be back again and again. The tests they faced in capturing the crowns this time around don't suggest their runs are about to end, but rather that the rest of the field has gotten that much stronger -- and that's only going to be good for tennis. But in the meantime it sure seems like we've seen the dawn, or re-dawn in some cases, of a new era of dominance in the sport. And with these guys proving they have what it takes to triumph over a top-notch field, it only shows they have what it takes to keep their spots at the top

No comments: