Roland Garros Rewind: Thoughts on the Women’s Final

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The best, and the best of the rest.

The latest meeting between the top two women in the world reached the usual conclusion.  Read about the last women’s match of 2013 on red clay.

That was…expected:  After two victories over Maria Sharapova in finals earlier this spring, including a comprehensive triumph on clay, Serena Williams came into the Roland Garros as an overwhelming favorite.  She extended her winning streak against Sharapova to twelve and her combined record against leading rivals Sharapova and Azarenka to 26-4.  Rivals?  She has none at the moment.

But also unexpected:  Sharapova gave Serena something to ponder in both sets rather than just folding meekly from the outset, as it seemed that she had in Madrid.  A first-serve percentage under 50% undermined her cause, but this final did not become the truncated rout that many expected.

Virginie who?  Not many players lose in the first round of a major one year and win it the next year, but the turnaround shows what an extraordinary competitor holds the No. 1 ranking.  Serena used that three-set collapse against Virginie Razzano in 2012 for motivation in 2013, when she lost just one set in the tournament.

Meet the new boss:  Same as an old boss.  In the last seven years, seven different women have won Roland Garros.  Serena became the first former champion to win there since Justine Henin’s last title in 2007.  But she had not won here—or even reached the final—since her first title here ignited the Serena Slam of 2002-03.  If not for the injury that hampered her so severely in Australia, Serena probably would have had another of those wrap-around achievements.

Sweet sixteen:  Serena’s sixteenth major marked her third since a prolonged, career-threatening injury absence.  She becomes the only active player on either Tour to win multiple titles at every major and closes within one of tying Roger Federer for the most major titles overall among active players.

Best of the rest:  If not for Serena, Sharapova probably would have defended her Roland Garros title, finished a second straight clay season undefeated, and swept all three of the WTA Premier Mandatory tournaments this spring.  Her season so far recalls Nadal’s campaign in 2011:  relentlessly dominant against everyone but a single opponent whom she simply cannot solve.  Sharapova has not lost before the final since February, has lost before the semifinals only once since Wimbledon last year, and has lost only one match to someone other than Serena since last October.

Vika the Vulture:  Although Sharapova defeated her in a ferocious semifinal, Azarenka passes her for the No. 2 ranking on Monday when the Russian failed to defend the title.  That jump could prove crucial at Wimbledon, where the No. 2 seed cannot face heavy favorite Serena until the final.  (Of course, the No. 3 seed might not either.)  Wimbledon does reserve the right to depart from rankings in its seedings, but they have little reason to adjust this time.  While Azarenka has reached consecutive semifinals at the All England Club, 2004 champion Sharapova survived the fourth round only once in 2007-12.

Pick your poison:  Even on clay, no woman can stay with Serena when she settles into her shot-making zone.  Matches crumble into routs or at best foregone conclusions.  That’s not ideal from a viewer’s perspective, but the experience of watching the best player in the world play her best tennis offers a special sort of entertainment. It’s not unlike watching Nadal on clay, at least against anyone but Djokovic.  Perfection without competition, or competition without perfection:  a difficult choice.

What are the odds?  Sharapova is 0-3 in major finals during odd-numbered years, 4-1 in major finals during even-numbered years.

Question(s) of the day:  How many majors will Serena win before she retires?  Can she pass Evert and Navratilova (18 each) for second place?  Should all-time leader Steffi Graf (22) start worrying?

 

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