August 10, 2014

Feels Like Forever

In truth, it hasn't been that long since this weekend's champions last hoisted a trophy, but it sure feels like it's been a while. Whether dealing with injury, being overshadowed by rising stars, or falling in early rounds to players ranked far below them, both Aga Radwanska and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga had been pushed from the headlines the last few months. But their performances this week in Canada might have turned the tide back in their favor, and it couldn't have come at a better time.

Agnieszka Radwanska had put up a couple solid performances this season, reaching the semis in Melbourne and the final in Indian Wells, but she hadn't won a title since Seoul last fall and was upset in the first week at both the French Open and Wimbledon. She still held onto the third seed in Montreal this past week, but she faced a tough draw from the start -- she opened against All England Club Cinderella Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, followed up with a win over record-breaking server Sabine Lisicki and then scored her second straight win over long-time rival Victoria Azarenka. In her semifinal against Ekaterina Makarova she avenged her loss in the Wimbledon fourth round and set up a clash with veteran champion Venus Williams for the title. Sure, Aga was the on-paper favorite against the unseeded Williams, but Venus had already notched wins over Stanford runner-up Angelique Kerber and recent foil Carla Suarez Navarro before stunning younger sister Serena in a three-set semi, her first win over the world #1 since 2009 -- she certainly was more than capable of getting another win on Sunday. But Radwanska got the upper hand this time, pouncing on Venus's second serve and breaking her opponent five times. In under an hour and a half, the Pole had picked up trophy number fourteen, her biggest since 2012, and put herself squarely back in the conversation as the summer hardcourt season really heats up.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga seemed to have fallen even further out of that conversation -- the one-time world #5 failed to defend his Marseille title in February and hadn't made it to the second week of a Major since Roland Garros last year. He'd posted losses this season to players like #46 Santiago Giraldo in Madrid, #60 Marinko Matosevic at Queen's Club, and #119 Peter Gojowczyk at Davis Cup and went 0-7 against opponents ranked in the top ten. That was, of course, before he got to Toronto. A low thirteenth seed at the Rogers Cup, he stunned two-time champion Novak Djokovic in the third round and followed up with wins over Andy Murray and Grigor Dimitrov to make his first Masters final since 2011. There he faced off against legend Roger Federer, who'd reached his fifth final at this event, albeit by facing a couple challenges on the way -- he'd played late into the night in two-and-a-half hour-plus third round battle against Marin Cilic and needed another three sets to get past David Ferrer in the quarters. Tsonga, though, who'd notched a couple big wins over Federer in the past, proved the cooler of the two in the final -- on serve through the first eleven games of the match, he converted the only break opportunity of the opening set and created six more chances in the second while winning more than ninety percent of his first serves. Though he squandered one match point on Roger's serve, he ultimately took the championship in a tiebreak, capping off what might have been the most successful week of his career.

With their wins this week, both Radwanska and Tsonga have not only ended a long dry spell, but put themselves back in the mix as we head to the final Grand Slam of the year. While the stakes are only getting higher in the weeks to come, their performances in Canada show they know how to perform under pressure. And if they can keep it up, there's no telling how much more they can do.

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