August 18, 2014

The Throwback Tourney

Okay, sure -- the last time Roger Federer and Serena Williams hoisted the same trophy didn't come that long ago. But while both have remained not just relevant, but truly dominant in the years since, they'd also proved their fallibility against even the most unlikely opponents. This week, though, they seemed to turn back the clocks, and while both were certainly challenged in Cincinnati, ultimately they each recaptured the strength they'll be sure to bring with them in the weeks that come.

Serena, somewhat surprisingly, had long seemed to be cursed at the Western & Southern Open -- in her five previous appearances she'd only made the final one time and lost last year to Victoria Azarenka in a three-set nail-biter of a championship. And after a health scare at Wimbledon and a semifinal loss to her sister in Montreal, she didn't seem like she was playing at her best this past week either. In her opener against Sam Stosur, her vanquisher, yes, at the U.S. Open several years back, but a woman, nonetheless, she'd dismantled just days earlier, she went two hours and two long tiebreaks before eking out the win, getting barely half of her first serves in and squandering her only break opportunity. Then she dropped the first set to an in-form Caroline Wozniacki in the semis before sneaking into the final against Ana Ivanovic, the woman who'd stunned her in Australia just months ago. The Serb had survived her own squeaker on Saturday, defeating Maria Sharapova for the second straight time in a nearly three-hour battle, and seemed to lose some steam in the title match -- after building a 3-1 lead and holding points for two breaks, Serena upped her game dramatically. She rattled off ten straight points and won eleven of the next thirteen games and after an hour of play had claimed her fifth title of the year, ending a long drought in Cincinnati and setting her up for what could be a successful run in New York.

Federer's had a little more success in Cincy, racking up five trophies in Ohio over the years. But while he's clawed himself back up the rankings this season, reaching at least the final in eight events he's played, he's also fallen just short when it counts most. He'd won neither a Masters title nor a Grand Slam in two years and had been overshadowed by the current generation's stars at most of the big events. Still, Roger kept on kicking -- this week at the Western & Southern, he nudged past back-on-the-upswing Vasek Pospisil in his opening match and needed another decider to get past Gael Monfils. Against tougher opponents in the later rounds he actually had an easier time, dismissing both Andy Murray and summer standout Milos Raonic in straight sets. David Ferrer, who'd just pressed him to three sets the prior week in Toronto, presented a tougher challenge again in Sunday's final -- the veteran Spaniard fired back after losing the first set to build a 5-0 lead in the second -- but Federer rebounded again, breaking early and closing out the match in just over an hour and a half. It was Roger's first Masters title in three ties this year, and his twenty-second overall, and while it wasn't enough to put him atop the U.S. Open Series standings, it certainly shows he's not ready to slink off into the shadows after his disappointing Wimbledon final loss. And that could serve him well as we head to the final Major of the year.

We shouldn't be too surprised that this weekend's champions did what they do best in Cincinnati -- but there's something refreshing in seeing them reclaim the spotlight that had started to drift away. While plenty of players have shown they're contenders for the title in New York, you certainly can't put a title run past these two guys. And with just a week to go before the first balls are hit at Flushing Meadows, everyone out there better be ready for what they're going to bring.

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