By Maud Watson
Answering the Call
After the 2011 WTA season saw a slew of different winners (including three first-time Grand Slam champions), there was a real question as to whether or not there was a candidate who could muster some staying power at the top of the game. It would appear that at the start of 2012, Belarusian Victoria Azarenka has emphatically answered that query in the affirmative. She left Indian Wells with her perfect record intact, and what a run she had in the desert. After nearly being bounced out in her opening match, she went on a tear. She allowed only two games to Aggie Radwanska in the quarters, weathered nasty conditions better than Kerber in the semis, and trounced Sharapova in the final. Her improved abilities to retrieve and improvise, as well as her skill to just outright outwit the opposition on the court have all paid dividends in her success. Not bad for a player who almost walked away from the sport early last season. The powers-at-be are surely grateful that she opted to stick it out, as irrespective of what many may think of her controversial shrieking, she is exactly what the WTA has so desperately needed.
Still in the Mix
The newer and arguably more exciting rivalry in men’s tennis may now be that of Djokovic vs. Nadal, but only a fool would discount Federer’s chances of upsetting the apple cart and wrestling big titles from those two. The Maestro proved as much with his victory at Indian Wells. It may not have been a major, and he didn’t have to go through both 1 and 2 to hoist the trophy, but this was a huge win for Federer. He became the first man to win Indian Wells four times, and he tied Nadal for most Masters 1000 titles at nineteen. But perhaps the most important aspect for the Swiss was that he defeated Nadal en route to the title. The terrible weather conditions take nothing from the significance of his victory over the Spaniard either. It is an experience he will look to draw on should they meet again at a slam. Interestingly, Federer’s run puts him less than a 1000 points behind Nadal. It’s still a long way to go, and even further to reach the summit of the rankings, but with less to defend than either Djokovic or Nadal, Federer may just find a way to defy the odds, reclaim the top ranking, and add yet another enthralling chapter to his storybook career.
John Isner may have fallen short at the final hurdle twice this past Sunday, but the towering American served notice to spectators and his fellow competitors that he is going to be a tough customer for anyone on tour. Isner has shown promise in the past, such as his five-set loss to Nadal in the opening round of Roland Garros last year and his shock defeat of Federer this past February in Davis Cup. But his definitive breakthrough came when he played the best match of his career to knock out Djokovic in the semis of the BNP Paribas Open last week. Unfortunately for Isner, his serving wasn’t as stellar in the final against Federer, but it doesn’t diminish what he accomplished. For his efforts in reaching the final, he earned a spot in the Top 10 for the first time in his career, and with little to defend in the coming months, he’s poised to climb even higher. Does he have what it takes to win a major? That’s debatable. The high level he sustained against Djokovic is most likely the exception rather than the norm, but if he finds himself in the zone and gets some help from the draw, it could happen. With that serve, nobody should count him out.
A Good Break
Tennis players are always looking to get a break, and the British Government is giving them one. It comes in the form of a tax amendment amidst several complaints from international sports superstars. Under the law, foreign athletes are taxed on prize money, appearance fees and their endorsement earnings. It was enough to convince some to seek their match play elsewhere before competing at Wimbledon. The British Government has since altered the current rule to include training days, meaning a smaller portion of an athlete’s endorsement earnings would be taxable. Hopefully this latest move will sway some players back to competing in the British Wimbledon warm-ups once again.
Miami and the tennis world said welcome back to both Venus Williams and Alisa Kleybanova. Williams showed no mercy and no rust from a seven-month layoff against Date-Krumm, while Kleybanova had to battle to overcome Larsson in three. It was great to see them back out and competing once again and an added bonus that they both advanced to the second round. Unfortunately, tennis fans had to say good-bye to the popular Fernando Gonzalez, who will now go into retirement after his opening round loss to Nicolas Mahut. The Chilean put forth a valiant effort, saving three match points before ultimately falling in a third set tiebreak. He was a joy to watch, he will be missed, and here’s to hoping he stays involved with the game.