By Maud Watson
Brain Over Brawn
Unfortunately for Maria Sharapova, “Aga” Radwanska wasn’t “back in Poland” this past Saturday. Instead, she stood across the net and ultimately proved too much for the lanky Russian to handle in the Miami final. In what was a classic triumph of brain over brawn, Radwanska used everything in her bag of tricks to outwit and frustrate her opponent to claim the biggest title of her career. Cynics will look at Sharapova’s unforced error count along with the low number of winners from Radwanska and say Sharapova lost the match rather than Radwanska winning it, but to do so is to shortchange the Pole. Many of Sharapova’s errors came at the end of extended rallies, and nearly all of them can be chalked up to the pressure she felt to hit the ball harder and closer to the lines in an attempt to keep it out of the reach of Radwanska, whose anticipation skills are second to none. Radwanska definitely won the match – she just did it in a way we’re not used to seeing in this era of hit ‘em bang ‘em tennis. With the confidence flowing and only four losses on the season (with all four losses coming to Azarenka), Aga will be one to watch at any event, including the majors. Having been voted Fan Favorite Singles Player in 2011, it’s clear this is a change many will look forward to and enjoy.
The Forgotten One
With Murray’s hiring of Lendl, Federer’s stellar past six months, Azarenka’s streak, and the recent coolness that has enveloped the Federer/Nadal rivalry, Novak Djokovic has barely been a blip on the tennis radar. But the Serb has laid claim to two of the three biggest tournaments in the first quarter of the season, securing that second title with his victory over Murray in the Miami final. Though Djokovic struggled to close out matches at the business end of the tournament, he showed why he’s number one, calmly and quickly steadying himself to defend his title without the loss of a set. He reminded everyone that he’s still leader of the pack, and while his 2012 hasn’t been as dominant as 2011 (who actually expected it to be?), he looks like he’s still going to be the player to beat heading into the clay court season.
He’s still No. 2, and he put together an admirable 2011 that only stopped short of being another banner year thanks to one player named Novak Djokovic. But despite all of this, Rafael Nadal is approaching what arguably is one of the most pivotal points in his career. After semifinal showing at both Indian Wells and Miami, he heads into his beloved clay court season surrounded by question marks. He withdrew before his semifinal match in Miami citing left knee trouble, but the bigger concern for Nadal may be his his mental state. He has frequently appeared as what can only be described as disgruntled in 2012. From his pre-Australian statements and subsequent barbs traded with Federer, to his abrupt resignation from the ATP Players Council, he doesn’t appear to be enjoying his job. The good news for Nadal fans is that the knee isn’t as bad as in 2009, and his decision to withdraw from Miami to recover and hit the dirt early signifies his recognition of the added importance the 2012 clay court swing takes on for him. Be sure to keep tabs on him, as the loss of his Roland Garros crown or early tournament exits to players not named Djokovic could see the wheels start to come off.
Smoke & Mirrors
If you were foolish enough like me to get your hopes up when you saw the headline “WTA Addresses Grunting Issue in Meeting,” then you were sorely disappointed. All that appeared to come out of the meeting was the establishment’s acknowledgement that the shrieking is having a negative impact from the fan point of view, they don’t have a concrete plan to fix the problem, and they’d still like to primarily focus on remedying the problem at the junior level. I sympathize with the fact that it’s a delicate problem to fix given that Azarenka and Sharapova currently hold the top two rankings, and the WTA is reliant on their top stars to promote the tour. But grow a backbone! The WTA’s VP of Communications, Andrew Walker, suggested docking points at the junior level for players who make excessive noise, stating that when that happens, they “won’t care what their role models do.” Why not apply the same logic at the upper echelons of the game? I highly doubt Sharapova or Azarenka are going to hang it up simply because they have to tone down the shrieking. Not to mention, best to handle it now, as given the relatively young ages of both Azarenka and Sharapova, it might well be too little, too late if the WTA waits to rectify the situation through education of the juniors.
Sadly, Mardy Fish won’t be competing for the United States in Davis Cup against France, having suffered a health scare the night after his loss to Monaco in Miami (though it appears he will thankfully be ready to go in Houston next week). Fish’s loss may be Ryan Harrison’s gain, with Courier picking the young American to replace Fish in the tie this weekend. Harrison has already shown a ton of promise, and a weekend spent with more mature and experienced players, not to mention the tutelage of Jim Courier could do wonders towards improving his temperament on the court. We’ve all seen how success in Davis Cup can be a springboard to launching fruitful careers, so keep an eye on Harrison this weekend. It may turn into something special.