The Disappearing Woman

The Sony Ericsson Open in Miami should really be called the Williams Open. Serena and Venus Williams have won the the title 8 out of the last 12 years and it could well have been 9 out of 13 if Serena hadn’t dragged herself on to the court today with her left thigh all taped up. Serena’s movement deteriorated as the match went on and the newest new WTA star was crowned after Victoria Azarenka served out to win the final, 6-3, 6-1. And my first thought was, “Is this another woman who’ll win a big event then disappear?”

Sony Ericsson Tennis Open

And my first thought after that was Daniela Hantuchová followed by Svetlana Kuznetsova. Stream of conscious, admittedly, but there is a trail to be followed. Hantuchová won the Indian Wells title in 2002 then disappeared for a while before winning it again in 2007. Kuznetsova won the 2004 U.S. Open and she might be a bad example because she’s reached two more slam finals, but that led me to Anastasia Myskina who won the 2004 French Open then disappeared, followed by Maria Sharapova who has three slams but has also disappeared. At least from the court.

One of our disappearing women will make a return this year. We’ll get Kim Clijsters back but don’t hold your breath waiting for Justine Henin who literally disappeared overnight. Azarenka, however, looks like she might drag us out of this disappointing syndrome for a few good reasons.

Every woman who’s won the title in Miami has won a slam. Okay, Azarenka had a bit of luck when Serena waddled out looking like a mummy, but Azarenka had a one set lead over Serena in the Australian Open this January before she had to retire from the match in the second set. Also, Azarenka has a good record against higher ranked players and that’s the best indicator that a player will continue their climb up the rankings. This past year she’s taken out Kuznetsova, Elena Dementieva and Dinara Safina.

The only caveat I have is Azarenka’s injury history. There was that retirement against Serena this year and there were four more retirements last year and a knee injury. Who knows what will happen but I tell ya, I’d give my left eye for a multiple grand slam winner at this point.

The Mangled Racked Heard Around the World

You’d think the world had come to an end judging by the reaction to Roger Federer’s mangled racket attack in his semifinal loss to Novak Djokovic. Everyone in the tennis world appeared to be in total shock. After winning the first set handily, Fed lost his grip in the second set. He wasn’t just missing, the ball was flying off the edge of his racket and into the stands, and it was his best shot that went missing. Final tally: forehand winners 7, forehand errors 29. That’s enough to make anyone smash a racket. After the match Fed said this:

It’s been a tough last year or so, especially on the hard courts. My game never really clicked except at the [U.S.] Open where I thought I played great. I think when I was finding my form again it hit me with the back problem. So it was unfortunate but thank God the hard court season is over.

When someone asked him if he could overcome his problems by himself or did he need help in the form of a coach, Roger got a bit mad: “I’ve had like five coaches in the last two years, ” followed by a pause followed by the somewhat snide remark, “You write what you want.”

I don’t know who the fifth coach is and, as always, there’s a thin line between denial and positive thinking, but there are two rather huge denial alarms in those comments: 1. He’s implying that his chances of winning on clay are better than hard court. 2. He’s had four or five coaches and what good has it done him?

Having said that, Fed pretty much always makes it to the semifinals and though Andy Roddick failed to get to the semifinals this week for the first time this year, I’m seeing Federer as a bit of an anti-Roddick.

I don’t look at Roddick as a grinder because of that serve. No one with that serve could possibly pass as a grinder. But he’s been supreme at making the most of what he has relative to other top ten players, most of whom have better movement and a much better backhand. In Fed’s case, it’s just the opposite. He can skate along in the top five for some time to come with his skill set but his grinding abilities have never been great and now they’re periodically disappearing.

Andy Murray and Djokovic meet in the Miami final tomorrow and it’s kind of curious to note that all seven of their matches have been in Masters events. I’d like to pick Murray because he beat Djokovic in their last two meetings, but Djokovic has won both Indian Wells and Miami and both events are remarkably similar in their ability to predict slam winners. Because Murray hasn’t performed well at slams yet, I’m going with Djokovic.

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