May 10, 2015

Beating the Best

Winning a tennis tournament is always a great feat, but a title might mean slightly more when you have to face the toughest challenges yourself. All the heavy hitters were out in force, no one cleared the road for you, and you still managed to defy the odds and bring home the trophy.

And not only did this week's champions in Madrid manage to add a little more bling to their mantels, but they had to get through the very best the sport has to offer to do it.

There were lots of upsets in the women's draw, maybe unsurprisingly, with former French Open Juniors champion Simona Halep losing her opener to Alizé Cornet and a still-struggling Genie Bouchard building a 6-0 lead over Barbora Strycova before falling in three sets. But the biggest shockers were saved for the final two rounds -- two-time Major winner Svetlana Kuznetsova, now barely in the top thirty, faced one big threat after another, dispatching in turn Ekaterina Makarova, Garbiñe Muguruza, Sam Stosur and Lucie Safarova before stunning defending Roland Garros champ Maria Sharapova in the semis. They were her first top-ten wins of the season and got her to her first final since Washington last year.

There she met a woman who'd been equally stunning this week -- Petra Kvitova, though still ranked #4 in the world, hasn't played a lot this year, taking March off to recover from a hectic 2014 schedule. But she hit the ground running in Madrid -- after dropping her first set to qualifier Olga Govortsova, she rebounded quickly for the win and cruised the rest of the week. In the semis the young Czech stunned Serena Williams in straight sets, handing the top-ranked player her first official loss of the season and scoring her first ever win over the nineteen-time Slam champion. Playing in the final again for the first time since 2011, Kvitova was on-point -- she lost only three games to Kuznetsova, needing just over an hour to earn her second title of the year. And as much as the trophy must mean -- it's probably the road she took to get there that means even more.

The same can be said on the men's side, where the undisputed King of Clay was out to defend his crown. Rafael Nadal may have come to Madrid ranked fourth in the world, a lower spot than what he's been used to, and he may have been hoping to turn around what's been a relatively disappointing season so far. But that doesn't make him any less of a force on this surface. And with a couple weak-for-him showings in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, it felt like his run in Madrid carried a little extra meaning. And he looked more than motivated at the outset -- easily handling a potential test from Grigor Dimitrov and then taking out Tomas Berdych in the semis, he seemed ready to add clay court title #47 to his trophy chest, which would get him that much closer to Guillermo Vilas's record forty-nine.

But Andy Murray had other plans -- fresh off, astonishingly, his first clay court title last week, the second seed was focused on keeping his streak going. He won a tight rematch against Munich runner-up Philipp Kohlschreiber in his opener, but didn't drop a set again, losing serve just one time in his next three matches, against such formidable opponents as Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori. He faced a much tougher task against Rafa, of course -- the decorated Spaniard had only lost a handful of clay court finals in his career. But the Scot wasn't preturbed, and on Sunday he kept his cool under pressure, breaking his opponent three times and delivering him a straight set loss in less than ninety minutes. To back up his maiden Munich crown with a Masters-level win over such a formidable foe, might just put Murray on a path we didn't expect from him so long ago.

This weekend's champions may have higher-profile trophies on their shelves, but by vanquishing the very best in the field to score victories in Madrid, they may have accomplished something even more important. And that could just further shake things up when even bigger titles are on the line in just a few weeks' time.

1 comment:

tournament software said...

There are lots of upsets in the women's draw, maybe unsurprisingly but winning a tennis tournament is always a great feel. She lost only three games to Kuznetsova this is a great achievement for her.