February 1, 2015

Superb Ball

All eyes may be focused tonight on what's going down in Phoenix tonight, but we may have already seen the best ball play we're going to get this weekend. Over the last two days, the 2015 champions at the Australian Open both reasserted their positions at the top of the sport, waiving off some big challenges from their opponents in dominating style and capturing trophies that have been missing from their mantels for, seemingly, quite some time.

Serena Williams, who last won this trophy five long years ago, was inspired in Saturday's final against an also-hungry Maria Sharapova. Chasing Grand Slam #19, which would tie her for third on the all-time list with Helen Wills-Moody, she climbed to an early lead and never looked back. Even in a tight second set during which the Russian fought off all four break chances against her and saved championship point late in the tenth game, Serena held strong, acing Sharapova in the tiebreak for her Open Era record sixth Melbourne crown. The world #1 certainly bobbled here and there and even lost a few tense points, but she remained in control from the get-go and never once looked ready to cede her advantage. It was Williams' seventeenth win versus her would-be rival -- she's only lost two sets to her over the past decade -- and cemented her dominance over the second-ranked player in the WTA. And there doesn't seem any stopping her -- with just three Majors now separating her from Steffi Graf, she's one Serena Slam away from putting her name in a few more record books.

Novak Djokovic had a slightly tougher time sealing his deal, but it doesn't make his effort any less impressive. After a long, five-set semifinal against the man who unseated the four-time champion last year, the world #1 seemed a little sluggish to start against Andy Murray. Though he did manage to get the first break in the match he quickly gave it back and only squeaked out the opening set in a tiebreak. He squandered a lead in the second, too, this time dropping the breaker and, after over two-and-a-half more hours on court, only found himself tied with the three-time runner-up in Melbourne. But when Nole found himself down 0-2 in the third set, he was finally able to kick into high gear, winning twelve of the next thirteen games to claim his record-setting fifth crown at the Australian Open. It was his fiftieth match win Down Under, making this by far his most successful Slam, but something tells me he's primed to deliver more on the other surfaces now too. And it's going to be even harder for anyone else to stop him.

It may be only the first Major of 2015, but this weekend's champions sure set the bar high for what we should expect the rest of the season. Hopefully the rest of the field will be able to raise their games to the same level -- after all, as good as this start to the year was, you can't help but wish it's just a jumping off point for bigger and better things to come

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