By Maud Watson
Victoria Azarenka managed to find a way to come back from the brink of defeat in her fourth round match against Dominika Cibulkova (thanks in large part to a choke job by the Slovak), but she couldn’t pull off the feat twice. The Belarusian crumbled under the relentless pressure of the penetrating groundstrokes coming off the racquet of Marion Bartoli to suffer her first defeat of 2012. There’s no shame in the loss. Bartoli has collected several big wins and is ranked number seven, but it was evident by the way Azarenka handled herself at the end that this was one of the toughest losses of her career. Still, I like Azarenka’s chances of making a quick mental recovery and continuing to be the player to beat throughout the course of the season. She’s matured and improved her game too much not to, and in the long run, the fact that the pressure of extending the unbeaten streak is over should only help her cause heading into the French.
Finding a Balance
So it was a just quarterfinal match at a premiere event, and she did fall to Sharapova in the semis. But the win Wozniacki posted over Serena Williams earlier this week in Miami was just what the doctor ordered to get her back on track and infuse her and her fans with the belief that she may have what it takes to win a major. And contrary to Serena’s assessment of herself, she didn’t play poorly. She posted typical Serena numbers with 36 unforced errors that were nearly completely offset by her 34 winners. And while Wozniacki’s consistency played a large part in allowing her to weather the barrage of Williams, it was refreshing to see her adding a little more “oomph” to her groundies and serve. If she has in fact reconciled herself to the fact that she needs to beef up her game and take a few more risks, she could be well on her way to moving back towards the top and capturing that elusive major singles title.
Less than 24 hours after he had completed a huge breakthrough win by claiming just his third victory over Roger Federer, Andy Roddick found himself out of Miami in straight sets – including a second set bagel – to Juan Monaco. No offense to Monaco, who continues to enjoy a good run this week, but this was a bad loss for Roddick. It’s understandable that he’d be mentally and physically drained after the Federer match, especially since his injuries have hampered his ability to stay in shape. But what made the loss to Monaco so maddening was the way he lost it. Against Federer, it appeared Roddick had turned back the clock and finally returned to the brand of tennis that took him to the top. He was going after his shots, aggressively attacking the ball and taking it to Federer. Against Monaco, he reverted to playing it safer and hanging out well behind the baseline, even though his lack of fitness should have encouraged him to be even more aggressive in an attempt to shorten the points. For his sake and his fans’ sake, he needs to employ the tactics he did against Federer. Otherwise, that win against the Swiss will turn into a fluke instead of the turning it could be for the twilight of his career.
Where’s Petko when you need her? Following in the (two left) footsteps of Monica Seles, Martina Navratilova became the first competitor to be booted off of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars this past Tuesday night. Navratilova found herself at the bottom of the pack for two straight weeks, so it wasn’t unexpected. But in many ways, it was still sad to see her go. Clearly out of her comfort zone and at times struggling to remember the routine, you could see glimpses where she was enjoying herself and the challenge of trying something she’d never done before. It is a shame her journey had to come to such an early end, but no doubt she has been an inspiration to others to get out and try something they never thought they could.
Hobbling to the Finish
At this point, it would virtually be a more shocking news story if Kim Clijsters were healthy. It seems every week we’re hearing about a new injury for the Belgian No. 1, and this week was no exception. Clearly hampered in her loss to Wickmayer, it was later revealed that she has a tear in her hip muscle and will be out four weeks. Following the loss, rumors abounded that she was considering early retirement, and though she herself has put a stop to the rumors, I’m still not wholly convinced. With each injury setback, the desire to work at regaining her top form has to dwindle, and the fear factor she once had in the locker room is going to be all but non-existent come Roland Garros. Kim’s a great competitor and an even better person, but it will be a bigger surprise if she manages to nab just one of the three prizes that enticed her to return to the game than if she calls it a career before season’s end.