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WTA trumps the ATP!!
The ATP for a few years now, thanks to the exploits of its twin leads - Roger Federer & Rafael Nadal, with useful acts from its supporting cast has clearly been in the ascendancy leaving the WTA tour in its wake. But for the first time in a long time, the women's draw finally pulled off an act to arguably surpass what was dished out on the men's side. The feel good story of Clijsters, Carol ine Wozniacki signaling her intent to be a top-drawer contender, Melanie Oudin's giant killing run and the surprising early demise of the "ova" brigade all combined to make the women's side of proceedings an intertwined series of incidents that made incredibly compelling following.
It took a drubbing on Sunday and an El Classico on Monday night to provide an adequate riposte for the men.
The Rise & Rise of Juan Martin Del Potro
At the French Open two years ago, a friend & I were watching a first round match involving a greenhorn against the clay court champ. The tyro stretched Rafael Nadal to 7-5 in the first set hitting those jumping backhands that prompted us to think of Marat Safin. I've kept a keen eye on his progress ever since. After a year in the tennis wilderness, he broke through in the post Wimbledon period last year taking off on what has been a meteoric rise.
What is striking is that, even though the climb has been steep, it's been gradual. Del Potro's worked on his serve, his movement and on controlling that awesome power he possesses. He's moved step by step up the gradient of the slams, up the rankings and proved himself a potent contender at the Masters series events. That has meant his winning the US Open hasn't been a bolt out of the blue, but the natural culmination of a sequence of performances getting better and better.
His drubbing of Nadal was scary not just in the way he manhandled the physical Spaniard, but also in that he never seemed to be out of his comfort zone during that obliteration. In the final, Federer took the attack to him early outplaying him tactically. JMDP clearly was frustrated, but two forehand passes gave him a peek, and he grabbed the chance. Righting himself first mentally and consequently gamewise, he overpowered the most accomplished hard courter of our times. That was intimidating. Much like the rest of the towering Tandil native's game.
Kim Clijsters' return: What does this say about the WTA tour?
The return of Kim Clijsters and her subsequent victory, has been well portrayed here during our two weeks of coverage of the Open, but I would like to bring forth a more sobering aspect of this marvelous comeback. Clijsters when quizzed about her return to the international fold, remarked "I don't think there has been a huge change in the game for the past two years". This can hardly be seen as a thumbs up for the tour. Even more unflattering was this statement from her former coach, "Apart from the Williams sisters, she doesn't have to fear anybody.". More so when Kim, following a layoff of two years, wins the US Open in only her 3rd tournament and beating a bunch of top 10ers along the way. Pessimistic point of view? Perhaps, but it is tough to see a similar scenario unfolding on the ATP tour.
On a more positive note, there is plenty that the up-and-comers can learn from Clijsters' game. In an age where most players work on the first strike concept, the solid defense and counterpunching is the first thing they could take from Clijsters more rounded game. One certainly hopes the Azarenkas, Lisickis & Safinas are going back to the drawing board as a result. They have the power and the ability to strike the ball cleanly, a bit of work on the approach could make a huge difference to their results and to the standard of play.
One player, who made a real statement of intent by reaching the final here, needs to go the other way. Wozniacki is a counter-puncher very much in the Clijsters mold and there is much to like in her game. Her technique rarely breaks down, she shows a fair amount of anticipation and wheels that allow her to track down and get back a lot of balls. Importantly she also showed that she was mentally tough during her run at the US Open. The one aspect that would do her a world of good is Clijsters' skill at working the point, and to develop one shot that she could use to go on the offensive - the absence of aÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â real weapon made the difference in her final against Clijsters.
Leander Paes: Effervescent
At the age of 36, Leander Paes continues to have all the energy of a bounding 20-year old, as he showed by reaching the finals of both men's and mixed doubles, despite nursing a sore shoulder. Drawing on all his experience and the passion that still fires him, he turned around a seemingly lost cause with his partner Lukas Dlouhy to win his 2nd US Open doubles title and their second slam of the year. It's still a pleasure to watch the "fastest hands at the net" ply his trade, with a superb combo of delectable touch and fiery quickness. Kudos to Paes, and as the crowds in India used to scream during his improbable Davis Cup victories - "Go Leander, Go".
Major Disappointments: Andy Murray & Elena Dementieva
Surprise stories: Kim Clijsters & Melanie Oudin
Finally a little something from the last interview ofÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â former championÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â Marat Safin, that showcases hisÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â unique sense of humour as he bids farewell:
Q. Stefan Edberg, when he retired, he announces it a year before he did. He had a farewell tour.
MARAT SAFIN: Yeah, and he was getting tired of doing it every week.
Q. Very tired.
MARAT SAFIN: Bye bye, bye bye, and bye bye again.
Figured it was appropriate, to signal the end of our coverage for the Open this year. Signing off.
FIle Photograph Copyright: Erika Andersen
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