June 16, 2013

Back in Season

It's been a weird couple months for some of the sport's top stars. With the clay court season dominated by a couple key players, others were forced into the shadows during most of the spring. But as the season shifted to grass in preparation for Wimbledon the tides shifted too, and a few champions used the change to remind us just how relevant they still are.

Andy Murray hasn't had a bad year by any means -- titles in Brisbane and Miami and runs to the finals in the last three Majors he's played helped him climb back to the #2 spot in the world. He did skip the French Open, though, after a back injury forced him to retire in Rome, and so his fitness for the lawn-court part of the season was still under question.

But he quieted doubters with his performance in London this week. The top seed at Queen's Club didn't roll over opponents quite as easily as you might expect -- he needed tiebreaks to dismiss both marathon man Nicolas Mahut, who beat him here last year, and Benjamin Becker, and dropped his first set in the semis to recently red-hot Jo-Wilfried Tsonga -- but eventually made his way to a third career final here. Murray struggled a bit too in the title match today -- defending champ and world #11 Marin Cilic, who's taken more than a few sets off the Scot in the past, started out the stronger player this time too. But Murray rebounded after dropping the first again, finally sealing in the win, and his third London crown, in about two and a half hours.

Roger Federer, if you can believe it, has actually had an even slower start to the year. Having gone the first five and a half months of 2013 without a title -- the first time that's happened since the turn of the century -- he's almost been better known for his recent "failings". He lost in the Rome final to Rafael Nadal and got down two-sets-to-one against Gilles Simon in Paris before being drubbed in the quarters by France's Tsonga. He's only lost to two players out of the top ten this year, though, and at #3 in the world, he's not exactly slipping. Still, at thirty-one years of age he's finally proven himself to be slightly more vulnerable that we thought he would ever be.

But this week in Halle Federer showed he still has more than a little life left in him. He delivered a sub-forty minute double bagel to Mischa Zverev in the quarters and avenged a surprise loss in last year's final here, rebounding after dropping a set to Tommy Haas in the semis. Like Murray, he too struggled in Sunday's final, trading games with unseeded Mikhail Youzhny and eventually dropping the first set tiebreak. But he turned things around eventually, taking the last two sets decidedly and ultimately capturing his fourteenth grass court trophy.

Both of last year's Wimbledon finalists certainly did their part to prove all they needed was a little change of scenery to get back into their winning ways. And after the victories they've each recorded this week, it certainly looks like they're ripe for even more success.

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